“Early on she learned that there was no fight more hurtful than a family fight, and no family fight more hurtful than one over God.”―
Elif Shafak is one of my favorite writers for her eloquent storytelling and her love for Istanbul that peeks out from every one of her books. When I picked up this book, I was sure of some interesting connections between Eve and the story. But unfortunately, I was let down there.
Title: Three Daughters of Eve
Author: Elif Shafak
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/ Turkish Fiction
My rating: 3 stars
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The tale shuttles from the turbulent Istanbul to the calm, dignified environs of Oxford across two timelines and involves three women who form a sort of holy trinity due to their varied religious beliefs. The American-Iranian Shirin is the “sinner”, the British Egyptian hijab-wearing Mona is the “believer” and Peri is the Turkish woman caught up between a secular father and a pious mother as the” confused” make up the three daughters of Eve. While Shirin is extremely outgoing and popular on campus, Mona is reserved but outspoken when it comes to her religion. Its Shirin who gets the other two to move into a house together near the university where they continue their heated debates over religion.
At the center of this trinity is a non-conforming Oxford Don Azur, who teaches a course to understand God. Peri is fascinated by this charismatic teacher, believing herself to have fallen in love with him. Her heart is broken when she realizes that Shirin and Azur are in a relationship. She is enraged when she discovers that their cohabitation is probably at Azur’s suggestion. She suspects its some sort of an academic experiment for him.
“England has a peculiar way of making foreigners feel exhilaratingly free and depressingly alone.”
A slew of events unfold where Azur is held responsible of disreputable behavior and asked to leave the university till his name is cleared up. An attempted suicide by Peri is thought to be caused by Azur and Shirin expects her to clear his name. But Peri chooses to keep quiet out of a sense of misguided revenge perhaps and returns to Istanbul, gets married and settles down, never to look back. The holy trinity breaks up, never to meet again.
“Was religion an empowering force for women who otherwise had limited power in a society designed for and by men, or was it yet another tool for facilitating their submission?”-
Cut to the present and Peri is on her way to a dinner party when she is robbed. On an impulse she chases the thief who leads her into a dark alley where she is assaulted and almost raped. A polaroid falls out of her purse in the ensuing chaos which features her three compatriots from Oxford.
The aftermath of the trauma sets Peri in an introspective state and she is unable to concentrate on either the dinner or her fellow diners, each curious to know more. A fortuneteller is the main entree at the dinner and he makes some cryptic remarks to Peri, which hit pretty close to home.
In a sudden attack of conscience, Peri calls up Shirin and apologizes to her for her part in Azur’s disgrace. Shirin gives her Azur’s number and asks her to apologize to him. Just as she connects with Azur, armed men burst into the house, sending everyone fleeing for safety. Peri manages to hide in a closet and is able to unburden her guilt to Azur. She then steps out of the closet.
What I liked:
Shafak is brilliantly eloquent in her writing and had me mesmerized from the first page. I loved the familial debates and conflicting personalities of Peri’s parents. The religious indecisions that tortures Peri throughout her life is portrayed fabulously along with her search for an identity.
What I didn’t like:
The entire setup of the dinner and the way Peri moves through it is tedious to read. I wish there was a better way of expressing her angst and introspection.
The journalist who knows something of the Azur scandal and who whispers something into the fortune teller’s ear hinted at some big reveal but then just fizzles into nothing.
Both Mona and Shirin felt like half-baked characters as there was just minimal info on them. And they both disappear as suddenly as they had appeared, leaving no trace.
I expected more from the divinity debate when Peri joins Azur’s class but that too didn’t lead anywhere.
The magical realism angle introduced in the story where Peri sees a baby in the mist was somewhat explained but left me wanting more.
Troy’s vendetta against Azur seemed misplaced and groundless. I found it to be a pretty weak link in the entire scandal story.
Peri’s suicide attempt was so out of the blue and unexplained that I thought I had skipped some chapters and actually went back to check. Her leaving Oxford also seemed misplaced, as did the premise that her husband knew all about Azur. I waited for something to be revealed there too.
Finally the way the book ended was too half baked for me and I would have really liked more.
Shafak’s penchant for drama and strong character sketches is totally missing in this book and perhaps thats why it fails for me. The only thing that kept me reading till the end is Shafak’s articulate and persuasive writing.
QOTD: Have you read this book? What is your impression of it?
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