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Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak - Review

Saturday, February 1, 2020

This book is for my book club, so I bought it off eBay over Christmas. I'm determined to attend more meetings this year and to persevere with the books so that I can talk about them, even if I don't particularly like them. The point of book club for me - apart from a social one - is very much to push me out of my comfort zone by making me read books that I wouldn't otherwise pick up. And this indeed is a book that I wouldn't have ever picked up.

Lynn had read this book before so this was her choice for January. It's about a woman called Peri and has a dual narrative set both now, in 2016, and in the past, in Peri's teens and early 20s.

In the 2016 narrative she is in her mid 30s, living in Istanbul where she grew up, and married to Adna. She is in the car with her daughter Deniz one evening, heading to a party, when her handbag is taken from the back of her car. She pulls up and sets off after the thieves. She confronts a tramp, who upends her bag and attacks her. Her daughter saves her and the two pick up some of her belongings, including a Polaroid photo of Peri, two other girls, and a man.

In the 2000 narrative, Peri is at university in Oxford. She has had a somewhat interesting chilhood in Istanbul, caught between her parents. Her mother is a devout Muslim, but her father is more secular. He smokes and drinks, and never prays. The two of them often fall out. Peri's older brother goes to prison for being a radical. Mensur, Peri's dad, makes plans for her to go to Oxford and she does. There she meets Shirin, an Iranian girl who thinks Muslim women should never wear hijab, and is encouraged by her to take a particular seminar taught by a man called Azur. It is about God, and Peri feels both the lure of talking about religion and of Azur himself.

In the class she also gets friendly with Mona, who wears hijab. She and Shirin are the other two girls in the photo with Peri and Azur. The September 11th hijackings happen which changes how the women are treated in Oxford.

Meanwhile back in 2016 Peri heads to a party held by her friends, although she feels like an outsider. Her friends are never written about by name but are called "the businessman", "the CEO" and so on. She borrows Adnan's phone to speak to her mother and ask for Shirin's number.

It's obvious there's some kind of scandal that happened back in 2002 in Oxford, but it's not clear what until very near the end. And honestly, I didn't think the pay off was worth it. It took me ages to get into the book - honestly I was about halfway through before I was really gripped - and then I felt there was a lot of beginning and not enough ending. I didn't like it very much even though I really liked Peri and understood where she was coming from religiously and ethically, even though I didn't fully understand her. I wouldn't say I loved the book, and I'll be interested to see what others thought of it. I'm giving it three out of five.


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