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[Saturday Reads] Transformation Of A Daughter Of Eve from the 80s to 2016 in Istanbul

"Three Daughters of Eve" by Elif Shafak.


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

This novel would have been a good fit as well for our previous reading theme on sisterhood and female bonds in literature, seeing as it focuses on the strange bonds forged between “the Sinner, the Believer, and the Confused.” However, I thought I could focus more on the transformation of the main protagonist in this story, Peri, from the early 80s to how she is like in 2016.

Three Daughters Of Eve

Written by Elif Shafak Original Title: Havva’nın Üç Kızı
Published by Penguin Books (2017)
ISBN: 0241979927 (ISBN13: 9780241979921) Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Buy Three Daughters Of Eve on Amazon | Book Depository

I have read and reviewed Elif Shafak’s Black Milk three years back and really enjoyed it. Hence, I am quite familiar with her narrative style and tone. I bought this novel two years ago while I was in Innsbruck – I still have the receipt inserted in one of the pages as a reminder while I was reading it.

As the title says, the story revolves around three female friends: Mona the Believer, Peri the Confused, and Shirin the Sinner – these are the labels ascribed to them in the blurb, and the story revealed it to be so. However, these categories also circumscribed them into clearly delineated boxes with very little room for movement, rendering them to be unidimensional portraits rather than complex, fully-formed beings – at least in my mind. Despite this, I can still fully relate to Peri’s fascination with language, its various permutations and meanings, and its ultimate power:

While I still enjoyed Shafak’s voice and avidly read through Peri’s transformation from a wide-eyed, idealistic Oxford undergraduate student in the early 90s to the harried wife and mother who was mugged and nearly raped and killed in 2016, and with a predictably-contentious relationship with her teenage daughter – I thought that the story here only served as a nebulous, hazy backdrop to Shafak’s commentary about religion, womanity, and social class.

All three daughters of Eve are also enamoured with their Oxford theology Professor whom I found to be hopelessly beguiled by his own smarts – but then again, most genius fall prey to this curse of self-love, making one feel entitled to toy with young people’s impressionable minds and their volatile emotions. Here is one quote attributed to the infamous Professor Azur:

Peri’s transformation was triggered by a near-death experience that surfaced a lost photograph from Oxford, and made her re-examine her life choices and the woman that she has become. I was a little disappointed to learn that she did not appear to finish her education at Oxford – the big reveal in the end was also anti-climactic for me. I felt that the storyline was used as a convenient platform for philosophical musings about God, about capitalism and the comforts of middle class conveyed with thinly-veiled disdain, and what it is like to be a modern Muslim woman at a time of conflicting messages and competing loyalties. I was especially struck by this quote about societal expectations on women in Istanbul, early on in the novel:

Whether driving or walking, a woman did best to keep her gaze unfocused and turned inward, as if peering into distant memories. When and wherever possible, she should lower her head to convey an unambiguous message of modesty, which was not easy, since the perils of urban life, not to mention unsolicited male attention and sexual harassment, required one to be vigilant at all times. How women could be expected to keep their heads down and simultaneously have their eyes open in all directions was beyond Peri.

The story itself, however, was a faint echo in the background compared to the heavy-voiced pontification. Regardless, I admired Shafak’s beautiful turns of phrase, her evident love for words, the way she made Istanbul and Oxford come alive in my mind, the vivid portrayal of what it is like to be a woman in Turkey, and the earnest attempts to untangle something complex in her mind through this story.

#WomenReadWomen2019: 26 (target for 2019: 25) – Elif Shafak is from Turkey – but based in the UK; setting of the novel is in both Turkey and the UK.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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