I was lucky enough to receive copies of this book to give away for World Book Night, and I loved the sound of it:
Leaving her twin sister behind, Pembe leaves Turkey for love – following her husband Adem to London. There the Topraks hope to make new lives for themselves and their children. Yet, no matter how far they travel, the traditions and beliefs the Topraks left behind stay with them – carried in the blood.
Their eldest is the boy Iskender, who remembers Turkey and feels betrayal deeper than most. His sister is Esma, who is loyal and true despite the pain and heartache. And, lastly, Yunus, who was born in London, and is shy and different.
Trapped by the mistakes of the past, the Toprak children find their lives shattered and transformed by a brutal act of murder…
The book jumps around between characters, times and countries – and it does this a lot at the beginning, going from London in the 70s to Turkey in the 60s, then back to London in the 90s and then back to Turkey again. The chapters are really short so the constant zipping about is hard to follow at first – especially if you only read short bursts of the book at a time. In fact, I had to write down a bit of a family tree / timeline to get my head around it. However the book does eventually settle and focuses more on London in the 70s.
Despite the mention of the three children in the blurb, the focus is on many more characters, including their parents and grandparents and both men and women. The contrasts between Turkey and London are stark, and the attitudes of the men towards women, and how the women are often accepting of this, were shocking at times. I found this side of the book really interesting, and I also liked reading about some of the characters’ superstitions – and the Turkish food!
We find out right at the start of the novel that one of the characters is in prison – and we also get clear hints as to why. We then have to piece together what has happened, and the background to the events builds up more slowly. This was done very effectively, as I found I had to keep reading to get to the bottom of what exactly had happened. I also found myself sympathising at times when the nastier characters, as you do find out what has motivated them and made them how they are. This gives the reader a good insight into several different characters and it made me change your views of them at times.
Overall I found this a really enjoyable read, and I liked the setting and the swift changes of character – once I got used to it! I did find that some of the London sections didn’t work so well – the language that the younger characters used came across as unrealistic at times, and I wasn’t mad on the squatters storyline either. But in general I found this very readable and enjoyable, and I definitely plan to check out more of Shafak’s novels.