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Author:
• Sunday, February 02nd, 2014

Elif Shafak was born in 1971 to Turkish parents, a philosopher father and a diplomat mother, in Strasbourg, France. Her parents divorced when she was one year old and she returned to Turkey with her mother, which left an imprint on her life. A single child raised by a single divorcee mother was an unusual situation in a patriarchal environment in Ankara in the early 1970s.

Shafak lived between her traditionalist, irrational, superstitious grandmother in Ankara and her well educated, feminist, westernised, diplomat mother, abroad. She travelled all over the world which made her a multicultural and cosmopolitan person in her life and in her writing, combining eastern and western cultures as well as traditions in her novels.

Shafak writes in Turkish and English and is the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into many languages. She has won Turkish literary awards and has received several prestigious international prizes, one of them being the French honorary distinction of Chevalier des arts et des lettres in 2010.

Shafak is also a political Scientist and assistant professor. She obtained a Masters degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science at Middle East Technical University in Turkey. Her Master’s thesis on Islam, Women and Mysticism received an award from the Social Scientists Institute. She has been a teacher at various universities all over the world.

Shafak writes for a number of daily and monthly publications in Turkey and has contributed to several newspapers in Europe and in the USA as well as writing lyrics for Turkish musicians.

She lives with her two young children and Turkish husband who works as editor-in-chief for an Istanbul newspaper. She divides her time between Istanbul – the Turkish city that she is very attached to and which takes a central part in her novels – and London.

Her book, Honour, was written in English and published in 2012.

Adem Toprak is from Istanbul and his Kurdish wife, Pembe, was born and raised in a small, remote, roadless village called Mala çar Bayan located near the river Euphrates. Pembe has always longed to travel and after her marriage she moves to Istanbul, where her two children, Eskender and Esma were born. Her wish is fulfilled when her husband decides to emigrate with the family to 1970s bustling London, before the arrival of their third child Yunus.

Once in London, Adem and Pembe want to believe in love and freedom but deep inside they can’t get rid of, nor leave behind, their entrenched resistance to adapt to a different culture, nor their ingrained perception of betrayal, shame and honour.

Honour is the story of three generations of a Turkish and Kurdish family. Through the various narrators and viewpoints, the author is juxtaposing eastern and western cultures as well as conservative and modern societies.

The story revolves between Turkey and London. It starts with Esma and ends with her. Esma is the second Toprak child, a bright student. She is ambitious, independent, strong headed and destined to a bright future. The irony is that after her studies and her ambitious dreams, she ends up like her mother as a housewife. Esma has now two twin daughters following her marriage to the considerate and caring Palestinian immigrant scientific scholar, Nadir.

Yunus and Nadir become good friends. After sharing some thrills with a group of punk squatters, that he came across by chance in his early teens, Yunus becomes a successful musician with a band.
Throughout the story the author emphasizes the three siblings’ – Eskender, Esma and Yunus – different degrees of adaptation to the western world. Each one of them trying to adapt in his own way and according to the circumstances they are facing.

Feeling uprooted and lost in his new adopted country, Adem, the head of the family, has been brought up by an “at times sober, sweet and kind and at times drunken, evil and violent” father and a submissive mother who disappears out of his life at an early age. Having had this unsettled and insecure upbringing, Adem, once in London becomes an addicted gambler. He spends all his money to satisfy the needs of his Bulgarian lover, Roxana, the dancer. He eventually abandons his wife, Pembe and his three children without any income to survive on.

Adem’s wife Pembe, who is a determined and yet vulnerable character, feels just as displaced and disoriented as her husband. She finds a job in a hair-dressing saloon and finds solace in writing letters to her identical twin sister, Jamila.

Jamila, never marries – because her honour has been besmirched when kidnapped as a young girl through no fault of her own – and is living secluded in a remote place in Turkey. She becomes a midwife and a healer. She has a psychic connection with her identical twin sister and is an important character in the plot’s twist at the end of the story.

With her husband having run away with another woman, leaving her to bring-up their three children, Pembe establishes an innocent, secret relationship with a Greek cook, which will lead to her demise and lead her son Eskender to Shrewsbury prison after committing his irreparable crime by killing her for it. Eskender finds it difficult to embrace two cultures at once. He is a sympathetic character as an adult, when he is tortured by guilt and remorse and feels repentant for committing his heinous crime. Previously he was a confused teenager trying hard to find the right path on his own. He was young, without a father to guide him and with a mother who spoilt him and called him her “sultan”.

Eskender considers his mother’s irreproachable friendship with a man to be a crime and only by killing her can he restore the Toprak family honour, since his father will not undertake this task himself. Pembe has to die like her eldest sister, Hediye, who died, hanged by her family, many years earlier, for having eloped and then been forsaken by a young medical assistant.

In the novel, the author underlines that for some communities the only answer to restoring the family’s honour is death and that this code of honour is carried forward from generation to generation.

Honour has several themes: patriarchal societies, immigration, the search of identity, multiculturalism and honour code as well as honour killing – which today is still alive and well in various tribal communities all over the world. Just as domestic violence against women is also increasingly spreading all over the eastern and western world.

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Author:
• Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Susanne Dunlap was born in 1943 in Buffalo, New York. After finishing school she studied mathematics major at Bucknell University before quitting for an English major. Dunlap obtained a masters degree in education from the University of North Carolina and a major in music from Smith. Then, thirteen years later, she went back to achieve an MA in musicology and finally obtained a PhD in music history from Yale University after eight years of study.

Susanne Dunlap has worked as a legal assistant, a Yoga teacher and a music history teacher. In 1986 she was a founding member and president of Sisters in Crime – an organisation that provides advice and support to mystery authors and promotes women crime writers. She has been an Associate Creative Director at a small advertising agency in Manhattan and won the Anthony and Macavity awards – a literary award for mystery writers. Dunlap has two grown-up daughters and grandchildren.

Susanne Dunlap has written several books and short stories. After reading a novel by Agatha Christie she decided to become a writer of crime and mystery fiction. The Musician’s Daughter, published in 2009, has been nominated for the Utah Beehive Award and the Missouri Gateway Readers Award.

The Musician’s Daughter is a historical fiction set in eighteenth century imperial Vienna with its opulent palaces and its Viennese and Hungarian nobilities as well as the wonderful world of Viennese music, alongside poor gypsy camps, exoticism and folklore.

On Christmas eve Theresa’s father, Antonius Schurman, the finest violinist who plays in prince Nicholas Esterhazy’s court orchestra conducted by the distinguished Kappelmeister Franz Joseph Haydn, is brought back home dead by three of his colleagues. They find that he has been killed out of town by the river Danube, near a gypsy camp.

The intelligent, fifteen-year-old, Theresa, knows that her father had no enemies and was kind to everyone. She sets her mind on unravelling this perplexing mystery, courageously, on her own. Like a detective, she spends her time gathering clues and facing several dangerous adventures and in the end she finds the culprit.

Theresa is a liberated girl ahead of her time. She refuses to comply with the tradition of accepting any suitor. She is discretely in love with the young Hungarian musician Zoltan who is involved in the same mysterious intrigues as her. She dreams of becoming a musician like her beloved father, although she knows that society at the time finds women musicians unacceptable. After her father’s death, she takes control of her mother and little brother, with the help of her God-father, Haydn, .

After the breadwinner of the family dies, Franz Joseph Haydn, who is losing his eyesight, helps his God-daughter, Theresa, financially, during this difficult period by employing her as copyist for his compositions. Theresa is very grateful, she needs the money desperately, especially with a helpless, bereaved mother at the end of her pregnancy and a brother about to start a violin maker apprenticeship lasting nine years.

Theresa decides to find her father’s murderer and retrieve her late father’s old, valuable, stolen, Italian, Amati violin – the very same violin that Theresa loved and was taught to play by her father. All she has to go by for starting her pursuit is a mysterious gold pendant that she has never seen before, found round her father’s neck.

As the story unfolds, Theresa discovers she is penetrating into a world of deceit, conspiracy and political intrigues. She will acquire information and consequently learn that her father was against injustice. He was against Hungarian serfs and against the hunting down of gypsy camps. He was spying in order to unveil the atrocious behaviour of the Hungarian lords.

She will also find out that her highly positioned rich uncle, was making money by selling young boys to become Hungarian serfs. Theresa, with the help of some of her late father’s colleagues and some gypsies will extricate her kidnapped little brother, Toby from her evil uncle’s grasp.

The Musician’s Daughter, written by an indisputable music history lover, is a pleasant, entertaining,well described, easy-read mystery adventure, abounding with action and twists. The story starts off at a slow pace before catching-up and moving at a faster steady rhythm, building up the tension until the unveiling of the last twist.

Theresa, Mirela and Danior’s characters are especially sympathetic and well portrayed. The novel has good historical insight into the non existence of women’s rights as well as social security rights and is filled with social injustice. These are some of the problems of the time in this area of the world. The author describes the abominable way the Hungarian lords obtained their serfs and how gypsy people suffered by being unfairly persecuted. Even today the plight of gypsies remains an unsolved problem in many countries of the world.

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