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Britmums Book Club book review: Honour by Elif Shafak

Britmums Book Club Review: Honour by Elif Shafak

I was lucky enough to be one of the first 100 People to sign up to this months BritMums book club and receive a free copy of the book. Please be aware that I do discuss the book in this review and there may be a few unintentional spoilers.

The book centres upon Esma, and her coming to terms with her brother’s actions where he has committed a murder. Through this the story of the family is told, from Turkey to England, covering several generations. Issues such as culture, religion, ethnicity, racism, discrimination, love and hate are all covered by the story.

I found this book easy to read and if I didn’t have an 8 week old to look after I would have read it very quickly indeed. I enjoyed the structure of the book and the way it concentrated on specific times and events in the lives of the characters, rather than one long story about their lives. It was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle putting the pieces together and I enjoyed the initial mystery of who had committed the murder and how it had happened. I liked the way the book leaves you to fill in some of the gaps.

The way the book focuses on Honour and what this means for each character was of interest to me. The culture clash of the two countries Turkey and England, and the way the three children in the story adapt to the english culture in such different ways was also interesting to read. I felt that through the generations whilst times changed, the sanctity of ‘honour’ in the family was constant and did not change. History repeated itself several times and the family did not seem to grow or adapt. It made me think about our own culture and what we may feel is ‘honour’.  Our society has grown and changed over the years and many things that were dishonourable or shameful in the past were now widely accepted, for example sex outside of marriage. It also made me think about my own family and what is considered acceptable, and how we deal with this as a family. I can’t imagine how you would feel you needed to commit such a violent act in order to preserve your Honour.

I found it interesting that the men in the story were the ones who did more to dishonour their families and yet their actions were accepted and not vilified; and yet Pembe’s innocent love affair caused so much ‘shame’ and eventually led to murder. The Uncle commented that ‘some men only have their honour’ and to some extent I can understand why these acts are committed. When you have nothing else to barter with, your reputation is something you hold dear.

As a mother it is interesting reading as it describes how Pembe did her best to raise her children well, and she doted upon her eldest son and yet he comitted such as awful crime. Do we as parents have some liability for our children’s actions? Should we encourage more openness and honesty? Every member of the Toprak family seemed to have their own secrets and it was this that prevented them from perhaps averting disaster.

I felt the ending was slightly rushed and I would have liked to have read more about Pembe after the murder and her life. I thought that Pembe may have taken on her twin sisters identity rather than just go back to Turkey. I also wanted her to meet with Elias again and felt frustrated that this did not happen. In the end I felt whilst Pembe lived out her life in Turkey, she was still a prisoner of sorts just like her son. She still did not get to achieve what she had wanted to. It seemed ironic that her daughter, with all the oppourtunities in England, seemed to have followed a similar path in that as a housewife, when she had dreams of becoming more.  However her family life appeared to be a much happier one, it still seemed bittersweet that for all her headstrong ideas as a young woman, she had not followed her dreams through to a reality.

The character of Iskender, as an older man, was a likeable one despite knowing he had committed such a crime. He appeared a confused teenager who was stuggling to fit in with two different cultures. The book never really discusses why he chose to act the way he did in detail; yes he did it to protect the family honour but why go to such extreme measures? I feel this is where the extremist element to the story with the Orator could have been developed more as I felt this part of the story shaped the way Iskender thought about his Mother and her actions. Whilst it is described what happens during the murder, we do not know what is said to Iskender in the days leading up to this.

Overall this book is extremely well written, with several really interesting characters. It was easy to read and even with my having to keep putting down and picking up again it was easy to follow. The story was gripping with an excellent plot twist. I would reccomend this book and would be keen to read more from the author.

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