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Elif Shafak: Honour

Elif Shafak is a writer known for her amazing collection of novels, which revolves around the themes of Feminism and Sufism. Honour talks about the serious subject of “ honour killing”. The novel depicts two different world views the Eastern conservative cultural setting and the Western liberal society. Honour, depicts the tale of Toprak family, who immigrated from Istanbul in the 1970s to London.

The novel begins with a dedication to those “who hear, those who see”. The story opens up with an anecdote that reveals authors pontifical stance to unleash the truth upon the readers: “When I was seven years old, we lived in a green house. One of our neighbours, a talented tailor, would often beat his wife. In the evenings we listened to the shouts, the cries, the swearing. In the mornings we went on with our lives as usual. The entire neighbourhood pretended not to have heard, not to have seen”. This short and amusing story uncovers the main theme upon which the whole novel revolve.

The novel opens with the first chapter titled Esma. Esma Toprak a London raised Turkish Kurd is the narrator of the story. She tells about her mother’s death, “who died twice”. The narrator doesnot reveal the reason of her mother’s death inthe opening chapter. Rather she promise herself that she will tell her story to the whole world, “even if only to one person”.

Ezma is travelling to the Shrewsbury prison to bring home her recently freed brother. With the tiny details that Ezma provides about her brother, the reader notices a strange air of emotional numbness between the two siblings. After spending fourteen years in prison Iskender doesnot embrace her sister neither Ezma greet him with fervor “We won’t embrace. We wont shake hands. A mutual nod and thinnest of greetings in small stangulated voices”.

By the end of the chapter Ezma reveals the family secret that Iskender Toprak, is accused of murder. Here the author creates an element of suspence among the readers, that is, who is the victim of Iskander’s wrath. Most of the time all the signs are signalling to Iskander’s mother but it is the mastery of author’s words which creates ambiguity in reader’s mind.

Shafaq throughout her novel has maintained the position of humanist.Unlike traditional writings in which men were seen as usurpers of women rights, this novel pinpoints the mistakes of both men and women in creating social hegemony. Running in parallel to the main story there is a sub-plot. The story of sub-plot opens up in the village near Euphrates river, where a woman gives birth to twin girls.

Having six daughters already in line Naze resents upon the decision of God and name them “ Kadar/ Destiny” and “Yeter/ Enough”. Her husband thinking that the names are challange to fate later on changed them into “Pembe Kadar” and “Jamila Yeter” that is “Pink destiny and Enough beauty” . Later on Pembe marries Adem and move to London, and Jamila choses not to marry and become region’s fabled Virgin Midwife.

Being a diasporic writer Shafaq also talks about the issue of cultural split in her novel. The Toprak family has gone through immense cultural division. They are living in two worlds one that they have left behind and other in which they are struggling to fit in. The author throughout the story questions the cultural norms associated with man and woman. There are different instances in which she reveals the cultural beliefs very explicitly.

For instance when Naze, tells her daughters that “modesty is a woman’s only shield…if you lose that, you will be worth no more than a chipped kurus”. Naze continue, “women were made of the lightest cambic, whereas men were cut of thick, dark fabric. That is how God had tailored the two: one superior to the other”. The advice of Naze, to her daughters shows how cultual norms and social practices give man elevated status and these norms travel from generation to generations. The ideals held by Naze was then transferred to her daughter Pembe.

Pembe bore a son when she was seventeen. She name her son Iskander ‘ the name of the great commander who always marched in front of his soldiers, fought like a tiger, won every battle, destroyed all his enemies, conquered land after land, united the East and the West, the sunrise and the sunset, and was still hungry for more”. She used to call her son “sultan”, he was her pride, her whole world revolved around him. After Adem (Pembe’s husband) abondons his family Iskander becomes the sole protector of family. Being the eldest son he will now act as an elderly man and take all the decisions of family’s future.

A story of love, innocence and betrayal, Honour offers everything one can expect from a good novel. Emmerse with an element of suspence Shafaq makes her novel worth reading.

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