This is a dramatic tale of families, love and misunderstandings that follows the destinies of twin sisters born in a Kurdish village. While Jamila stays and becomes midwife, Pembe follows her Turkish husband, Adem, to London, where they hope to make new lives for themselves and their children.
In London, they face a choice; stay loyal to the old traditions or try their best to fit in. After Adem abandons his family, Iskender, the eldest son, must step in and become the one who will not let any shame come to the family name. And when Pembe begins a chaste affair with a man named Elias, Iskeder will discover that you could love someone with all your heart and yet be ready to hurt them.
Honor by Elif Shafak was my book club’s read for February. This is a book about culture and religion and how different people interpret the two. A murder occurs in form of honor killing. Was it justified or was it a case of religious fanatism?
Allow me to gush over the writing in this book. It is brilliant. The story is narrated in short chapters by various characters with the timelines moving back and forth like a pendulum. The writer used foreshadowing in the first chapters. Instead of diminishing the suspense, it heightened it. Readers find out about the murder and the killer within the first three chapters. I was curious about the why, how and when after that.
Chapter by chapter, the author unravels the mystery by taking us back to where it all began and showing us how the present was long determined by the past. The multiple POVs helped in the character development. I felt like I really got to know each of the characters. I understood them, their actions and emotions. I liked the twins, Pembe and Jamila although both their stories were so heartbreaking. I was also drawn to young Jonah who was trying to find his place in the world. Each of the characters whether good or bad had an impact on me.
This story is rich in cultural nuances. There is a lot to unpack from this angle, the main thing being the place of a woman in the society. A lot of things depicted in the story are on the extreme but still relevant in today’s society. Women are still judged more harshly than men. For instance, a woman’s sexual history is likely to receive a very different reaction compared to a man’s. We might not have honor killings but the double standards are still there.
Honor was a very addictive read. I was lost in the characters’ world. The story took me on an emotional roller-coaster ride that had me taking breaks to catch my breath.
This is also an immigrant’s story that tackles various themes about immigration. It’s also a cultural story that introduced me to Turkish/Kurdish culture and Islamic honor killings. All this is done without sounding like a lecture but instead, the story remained engrossing, thought-provoking, skillfully written and yes, utterly heartbreaking.