Honour by Elif Shafak

Honour may not be the best novel I have read, but I believe it deserves attention. Last summer I bought it without the slightest intention of doing so. You know, you go to a bookshop just to have a look, and your innocent stroll ends up with a new book. Honestly, Elif Shafak wasn’t an author I was really tempted by, but since her works were so popular, I got curious to find out why. Although my curiosity didn’t go much further, Honour turned out to be a good read.  It’s nice when a book offers more than you have anticipated.

I am quite interested in other cultures, as I have mentioned before. And I knew that in this respect Shafak had something for me. I was right. Honour is a mixture of cultural idiosyncrasies and so rich in Eastern traditions. Some would say the subject matter is quite trivial – East and West meet again only to show the insurmountable gap between them; Turkish immigrants in London, parents who will always feel like aliens and keep following their homeland’s morals, and children who try to define their national identity. Neither Turkish nor British, they seem to be getting closer to the West and yet unable to fully shed the beliefs deeply rooted in their minds. Family honour is everything. But could it justify any crime, even the murder of a son’s own mother? Is it honour indeed or the erroneous view of an angry young man? And is prison the atonement?

What has struck me. My little Bulgaria is mentioned several times; there is even a Roxana, “a girl from a sleepy town in Bulgaria pretending to be Russian”. Frankly, this is not the way I’d like my country to be presented, and yet most of the time Shafak is quite accurate in her descriptions. Furthermore, the author depicts London and the British from a foreigner’s perspective which is quite interesting for me. I was surprised to see impressions that could be mine – British children being so lightly dressed in winter, for example. I still can’t figure it out. 🙂

What I don’t like about Honour. It’s too dark, imbued with women’s acquiescence and men’s ruthlessness. The characters are rather reconciled with their fate as if there is little hope of better times to come. The finale is also gloomy – death, real and unquestionable. That might be OK for many readers – a book’s end doesn’t necessarily sound like “and they lived happily ever after”. However, the feeling of deep pessimism never left me, and this is definitely not to my taste.

What I like about Honour. The author’s style of writing, the way she explores the depths of human mind and reveals her characters’ inner world. The story is gripping and conveys powerful messages. I absolutely like the multiculturalism, the vividness, the narrative’s structure fluctuating between both time and places (old and new, past and present, United Kingdom and Turkey), but above all the author’s outspokenness on shame killings. Darkness behind the decency, cruelty behind the traditions.

Overall, I think Honour is a worthwhile read. Although it’s set in the 1970s, it feels like the events take place today, so present the problems seem to be. Honour raises questions, but also evokes compassion. I like its profundity. Well, I guess I’ll give Elif Shafak a second try.  

Happy reading, book lovers! 🙂

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