Monthly Archives: April 2012

Issue of Identity in The Bastard of Istanbul

What is personal identity?  It is what makes the individual unique.  It is an individual’s perception of “self”, which can include gender roles, sexuality, and racial identity.  The struggle to discover identity and family heritage is a major theme in The Bastard of Istanbul.  Both Armanoush and Asya yearn to feel confident in their identities – both culturally and as a human being.

Armanoush desires to know more about her family’s history and what it means to be an Armenian-American.  She talks about this in the online chatroom, “I need to find my identity. . . Grandma always talks about this gorgeous house in Istanbul.  I’ll go and see it with my own eyes . . .  The Janissary’s Paradox will haunt me unless I do something to discover my past (117).”  The Janissary’s Paradox Armanoush speaks of is the duality of her nationality.  She is both American and Armenian, but doesn’t know what it means to be Armenian.  The Tchakhmakhchian family in America is cut off from other Armenian families in Turkey and has become very bitter towards the Turks as a result.  They do not know what the relationship between the Armenians and Turks is like in Turkey and have only their own prejudices that have been passed down in the family.  Armanoush is influenced by these opinions and yearns to discover the childhood place of her grandmother, who lived in Turkey.  She wishes to learn more about her past in order to establish herself in the present, “For me to be able to become an Armenian American the way you guys are, I need to find my Armenianness first (119).”  Can we be certain and sure of who we are if we don’t know our roots – where we came from and who our ancestors are?

Asya first learned that she was a bastard as a young girl and the word loomed over her, defining her and making her different in the eyes of her peers.  That title has separated her from other children and looked down on.

“By the time Asya Kazanci reached seventeen she had further comprehended that she no more belonged to Istanbul than did the ROAD UNDER CONSTRUCTION or BUILDING UNDER RESTORATION signs temporarily put up by the municipality (62).”

Asya’s mother, Zeliha, refused to tell Asya her biological father for most of the novel.  The reader later found out that Asya’s father was in fact the brother of Zeliha.  Perhaps Zeliha didn’t want to tell Asya the truth of her birth because she thought that the knowledge would haunt Asya and damage her psyche.  We often find our “niche” by observing our parents and either following in their footsteps or taking a divergent path.

“But in all honesty, someone like me can never be past-oriented . . . Not because I find my past poignant or that I don’t care.  It’s because I don’t know anything about it.  I think it’s better to have the knowledge of past events than not to know anything at all (180).”

Here Asya shows here a hidden yearning to learn the truth about her past.  Asya wants to know who her father is because she believes that the knowledge will fill that missing piece that is holding her back.  Without that missing piece, she has become bitter and confrontational, much like her mother Zeliha.

Perhaps after discovering who her father is, Asya can finally begin to heal and move on in her life.  Armanoush came to learn more about her grandmother, but ended up learning about the Turks themselves and, ultimately, about what it means to be Armenian in the midst of other cultures.

Symbolism of Tea Glasses in Elif Shafak’s, The Bastard of Istanbul

In The Bastard of Istanbul, Elif Shafak uses tea glasses as a strong symbol of Zeliha’s ability to endure. In spite of her refined beauty, Zeliha’s “towering high heels”, bold wardrobe choices, offensive language, public smoking habits, and nose ring (4) all seem to counteract any likeness she could have with a delicate tea glass. Even Zeliha’s profession as a tattoo artist is an indicator of toughness. However, throughout the novel, Shafak continues to bring up the tea glass in conjunction with incidences in Zeliha’s life, and eventually uses this fragile object as a symbol of Zeliha’s remarkable strength.

            Despite Zeliha’s appreciation for the beauty of tea sets, her abhorrence of the fragility of tea glasses becomes apparent to readers early on in the novel, “She was the only one among all the Kazanci females capable of getting infuriated at tea glasses when they broke” (9). The shattering of a tea glass angers Zeliha because to her it represents a lack of strength, which is a quality she detests.

In order to prevent herself from becoming “one of those walking miseries who scattered tears and nitpicky complaints everywhere they went” (15), Zeliha forbade herself to cry. However, as the time for her abortion draws nearer, the author describes her as becoming“as fragile as a tea glass…she couldn’t help but come close to tears” (15). Shafak compares Zeliha to a tea glass in this moment to show how greatly this experience has affected her. This young woman who so vehemently loathes the frailness of a tea glass, is experiencing something so traumatic that her own fragility prevails.

The tea glass is brought up again as Zeliha’s brother, Mustafa, is on a plane bound for Istanbul and the household is preparing for his arrival, “…a tea glass cracked in Asya’s hands. So unexpectedly did this happen that it gave her a jolt” (297). In this context the cracking tea glass foreshadows the shocking truth about Asya’s conception that is to be revealed in this chapter, and is a reminder of Zeliha’s capacity for weakness as the past comes back to haunt her.

In the final pages of the book, Shafak once again uses the tea set as a symbol of Zeliha’s strength:

I bought this set twenty years ago. So strange! … I never believed they could survive this long. I always feared they would break so easily, but I guess they live to tell the tale, after all. Even tea glasses do! (357)

With this passage the author shows that despite Zeliha’s best efforts to avoid becoming a “tea-glass woman”, she realizes that tea glasses can be resilient. The author uses the un-shattered tea glasses as a symbol of Zeliha’s persistent strength and her ability to remain whole even in circumstances under which she would be expected to break.

Calling for an End to Female Circumcision

Caroline Lindberg

Female circumcision, female genital cutting (FGC), or female genital mutilation (FGM), is the partial or total removal or cutting away of a woman’s external genitalia is still practiced widely today. It is performed ritually in 28 countries all over the content of Africa as well as several Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, the Republic of Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, and is found in some Muslim groups in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and India. Scientists say that there is no real medical evidence to support the performance this invasive act and that the risks associated with it greatly outweigh the benefits. Education through public information campaigns is vitally important to end this harmful practice.

People give may reasonsfor why this tradition is still upheld today; these include: psychosexual and sociological ones, ones regarding hygiene and aesthetics, as well as mythological and religious reasons for why it exists. Although no religion requires explicitly that this malicious act be performed, many support it as part of their cultural identity and it is seen as a way to prevent promiscuity and ensure a woman’s “purity” before and sometimes even after marriage. Some cultures see it as a rite of passage while others simply use it as a means to maintain control over the women in their society, as the decision to become circumcised is usually made by a woman’s father or by some older relative from the father’s side or the family.

This extremely harmful and painful procedure can be performed at any point during the female’s life including: during infancy, adolescence, or even after her first pregnancy, however it is usually performed anywhere between toddler-age, around four, up to early teenage years before marriage, around age 14. The tradition of “cutting” is often strongly influenced by members of individual communities and is encouraged if not mandated by elder family members, men and women alike.

This procedure is physically and emotionally traumatic for these young girls and is usually performed by untrained medical midwives or an elder village woman as part of a group tribal ritual. They are often performed under extremely unsanitary conditions with almost no supervision. Female circumcisions are often carried out to differing levels of sophistication based on the geographic location in which they’re being performed.

Strickland writes, “circumcisions or infibulations may be performed with primitive instrumentation such as knives, glass, or razors without the benefit of anesthesia or aseptic techniques. In more populous areas, circumcision may be done with modern aseptic techniques, but conditions vary widely and the procedure is unstandardized or unregulated.” The context or environment along with the absence of qualified doctors in this field for which these circumcisions are being performed, open doors for serious and potentially fatal contamination of the genital region; even if no infection occurs, the act of genital cutting in and of itself causes permanent physical damage.

Women who have received even the less extensive of circumcisions, in addition to possibility of infection often leading to toxic shock are also susceptible to complications such as inability to pass urine, often leading to urinary tract infections, hemorrhage, nerve-ending damage as well as intense pain and swelling of the effected genital region. As infibulation is the most intrusive form of circumcision and includes the covering of the urethral opening, the health complications associated with it are that much more sever and life threatening. Complications include: repeated urinary tract infections, bladder stones caused by the obstruction, reproductive tract infections, vaginal scaring leading to keloid formations and cysts, and lowered fertility or even sterility. This type of mutilation can also lead to sexual dysfunction and pregnancy or birth-related complications. For these women who have been subjected to this most serious form of cutting, attempting to endure intercourse with their husband is traumatic in its own right. Sexual relations in this form are not at all pleasant for either woman or man, in that it causes both extreme pain and discomfort for both participants. In those cases in which the woman’s opening is too small that consummation is physically impossible, it is not unheard of at all for the man to reopen her wound right there in order to perform the marital act. This is not seen as radical or uncommon among these cultures because in the majority of these patriarchal societies believe that it is his right as her husband to consummate and claim her “purity”. In many instances, these women are so socialized to accept this circumcision tradition as an inevitability in their lives and as part of their culture; therefore, they often don’t make the cognitive link between the ritual act that was performed and the physical symptoms they experienced as a result.

One of the biggest problems, globally regarding circumcision is that it had failed to gain public attention or support of those countries in which this ritual was not prevalent in their society. It is hard to quite understand the plight of a women that has been circumcised without having experienced the same fate or listening to the words of a broken woman that has. This excerpt involves a young woman who was able to successfully get people in the U.S. motivated into taking notice of the problem and taking action.

Both liberal and conservative Westerners alike take a strong opposition in regards to female genital mutilation, viewing it as sexually dehumanizing, immoral, politically unacceptable, without ever considering the tradition and culture that is encompassed in that act. They tend to take radical views and methods of change, neglecting to consider how these women feel; this approach to change has been inevitably hindered our success in achieving it, in that many Africans find this direct opposition to their way of life offensive and an insult to their culture.

Going through the government to institute change hasn’t worked in the past because if the larger majority still believes in practicing circumcision, then prosecuting those people and their families who have practiced and performed this ritual actively would be counterproductive to the cause. Thus, organizations have begun to mold their strategies by directing their efforts towards educating these women, not insulting them. Researchers suggest that public information campaigns and counseling families about the effects of the practice on children may be more useful. Using these strategies to inform and educate these affected women in respect to gynecology and promoting economic autonomy will most certainly be the most effective way for us to ensure the prohibition of female genital mutilation in Africa and other countries while still maintaining respect for their traditions and cultural beliefs.

Global Participation in Preventing Maternal Mortality

 Jenna King 

Every year 600,000 maternal deaths occur in developing countries such as Cambodia, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Resources are limited and it is often is a struggle for a pregnant mother to provide proper nutrition for herself and for her growing baby to survive. Taking action to reduce excessive maternal mortality is a priority of the UN millenium development goals. Education on preventing disease as well as providing soap and clean water, preventing malnutrition by allowing women to garden and grow food for their families, as well as training mid-wives to assist in labor will decrease the amount of deaths during childbirth. By supplying resources for proper vitamins and nutrients, preventing infectious diseases, and developing mid-wifery training programs, we will see a dramatic positive increase of maternal health world wide.

In order for the mother’s new body to develop properly for her baby she must intake enough essential vitamins such as calcium, iron, and vitamins A, B, C, and D. The availability of vitamins is scarce in developing countries of the world, and it is rare to have adequate protein, sugars, starches, and carbohydrates in the overall nutrition of a mother. The provision of free or low-cost vitamin supplements in less economically advantaged areas is essential to prevent conditions like anemia, iron deficiency, and malnutrition. Malnutrition can be prevented by women being taught how to garden and grow their own food for prenatal nutrients and to make mashed up baby food with fruits and vegetables. This would supply families with their own sustainable food source, while bettering their overall nutritional health.

            Women already weakened by a lack of nutritious foods and vitamins are more vulnerable to complications from unassisted labor and delivery. The prevention of hemorrage is another important component of maternal health. Hemorrhages can occur when the uterus does not fully contract. This causes severe bleeding and can result in death in as little as two hours if not treated. If the woman survives from the loss of blood she may still develop a lifelong condition of anemia. Those who already have anemia are more vulnerable to death by loss of blood than those without anemia. To prevent this type of mortality we must provide medical assistance and set up emergency access to hospitalized care. To prevent hemorrhaging, midwives try to decrease the time the placenta is delivered after the child. Drugs should also be provided to allow the uterus to contract, and cutting the umbilical cord immediately after birth are both standard procedures for most hospitals. If a woman is allowed access to a hospital blood transfusions help to save lives of those who experience hemorrhaging.

Proper sanitation is also an issue in underdeveloped nations where clean water and soap are not always readily available. Clean water and soap help provide proper sanitation that are both necessary to prevent infectious disease through the contact or transmission of bacteria, pathogens, or viruses. HIV/AIDS is a common among societies with lack of resources for education and prevention, and resources for testing for the disease. Malaria is also a deadly disease that is caused by getting bitten by an infected female mosquito. Malaria can be spread from mother to infant through the placenta before or during labor/childbirth. Through education about infectious disease and through the provision of resources like hot water, soap, alcohol, peroxide, antibiotics, and sterile medical instruments we can start to prevent a large portion of mortalities and morbidities from happening each year. Unsafe abortion is also an increasing cause of maternal death. Unsanitary and often rusty tools used to perform such action increases the chance of infection and complications of the reproductive system.

Organizations now provide funding and assistance for women who may become pregnant, who are pregnant, and those who have recently given birth. Global maternal health organizations such as The World Health Organization try to prevent mortality by training midwives to prevent hemorrhage, infection, high-blood pressure, obstructed labor, and unsafe abortion. The use of mid-wifery is very common, but whether the midwives are trained and using sterile instruments is crucially important. For successful labor women need to be in a comfortable environment where they feel safe and confident in their surroundings. Mid-wives are usually the only form of assistance women in rural areas receive, and the use of proper medical treatment such as checking vital signs like blood pressure, oxygen levels, temperature, and pulse rate are often difficult to distinguish without tools and knowledge provided by organizations.

Maternal mortality poses a challenge to health systems in developing countries with the lack of essential resources necessary for adequate nutrition and sanitation especially for new mothers and infants. Through education and by providing international funding for women’s health such as vitamins, clean water and soap, and other basic resources, we will see a dramatic increase in overall maternal health globally. The fight for survival is continuing to be a struggle for women who are becoming exposed to disease and malnutrition in their ever changing environment. Providing basic resources to underprivileged women will be the start of a healthier generation, and will be the dawn of self-sustainability. Everyone should get involved whether it is a small effort such as spreading your concern among friends and family, or a large effort such as moving to a developing country to assist women with child bearing obstacles including availability of vitamins, sanitation, and global organizations providing midwifes for women in labor.


Desensitizing Oneself as a Defense Mechanism against the Cruel Realities of War

Humans deal with traumatic events in their lives in all sorts of ways. The ways people use to “deal” with these events are called defense mechanisms. In The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing, the main character, Darina, uses a defense mechanism of desensitization to emotionally survive the war in Lebanon.  Desensitizing oneself means to “extinguish an emotional response to stimuli that formerly induced it” (“desensitize”). Examples of Darina’s numbed emotions are shown many times throughout the novel. It becomes very prominent when she discusses her sex life, childhood punishments, the death of friends and family, and during a game of Russian Roulette.

                Darina discusses tragic events in her book in a very matter-of-fact manner. She allows herself no self-pity and hardly discloses her feelings towards any specific occasion. The way she describes situations in her book makes it seem as though she has no emotions at all regarding the subject. For instance, when Darina was locked up in the cell with rats for the second time she wrote about the ordeal almost indifferently. She wrote, “She stopped my ears up with Laughing Cow cheese and then locked me up in the cell with the rats, where I spent many hours. Only this time I didn’t expect Jesus Christ to arrive” (Ch. 5). There was no offering of her feelings as a child locked up in a cell expecting rats to eat at her ears. One could almost imagine the shrug of triviality the author would bestow upon this traumatic event. 

                Emotion is also absent when the author writes about her sex life, which is otherwise described in great detail. Darina described the time when she broke her own hymen with great detail pertaining to what she did but stopped right after and switched the subject to the war without a word of her feelings towards her “loss of virginity” (Ch. 17). When she discussed her multiple sexual encounters, she did so very nonchalantly. According to Darina, she “made love like a mad women, with anyone anywhere…with brutality that left no room for desire and even less for feeling” (Ch. 18). In the previous passage she admitted her lack of feelings towards her sex life. Around this same time, Darina briefly mentions having to identify the remains of her close peers and family almost every single week. She described the hospital as “the place to go meet everyone” and that it “had replaced the village square” (Ch. 17). Her only mention of how this affected her was by saying that the frequent trips to the morgue inspired a great desire for sex (Ch. 17). Not only did she have to identify remains of her friends and family, but she also witnessed one of her friends kill himself.

                Darina’s friend, Ramzi, and Darina were playing Russian Roulette one night after having snorted multiple doses of cocaine throughout the day. Ramzi started a singing a song and pulled the trigger in the middle of the song. His voice was cut off by his own death from the bullet. Darina wrote that “his brains spurted out on my hair. Crumpled in his corner, Hussein was shrieking at the top of his lungs. I picked up the song where Ramzi had left off” (Ch. 19). Once again, she ended her story after the description of events without even giving the reader a glimpse into her feelings towards having her friend’s brain spurt out on her. Sometimes, the only way one can get through tragedy is to pretend that it does not affect oneself.  Darina taught herself to erase emotion when going through a traumatic event. The desensitization was a way for her to continue to hold herself together while everything around her was being torn apart by war.

A Comparison between Political and Baha’i Prisoners during the Iranian Revolution

During the Iranian revolution, people were imprisoned for a number of reasons such as communism, treason, supporting the old regime and even for religion. Dalia Sofer’s, Septembers of Shiraz, focuses on a Jewish man, Isaac, who is imprisoned during the revolution for having a successful life under the Shah’s regime. While reading this book I remembered Roohizadegan’s  Olya’s Story. Olya’s Story is an autobiographical account of a Baha’i woman who was also imprisoned around the same time as Isaac was in prison. I noticed a couple of similarities and differences between the two characters’ accounts of the time they were in prison.

                The biggest difference between the two characters is that Isaac is a political prisoner whereas Olya is imprisoned for merely being a prominent Baha’i. Although Isaac is Jewish, he is not pressured into recanting his faith while in prison. Baha’is are not allowed to participate in politics so their imprisonment is somewhat astonishing. In her book, Olya explained that the reason behind the persecution of Baha’is was because “there were some 450,000 Bahai’is in Iran, which makes Baha’is larger than the Christian, Jewish, and  Zoroastrian communities combined. We were regarded, whether we liked it or not, as a threat” (Roohizadegan, 17). The difference between the treatment of these prisoners stem from the Muslim’s belief that Baha’i is a deviation of Islam. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last prophet so they do not recognize Baha’i as a religion. Since Judaism came before Islam, they recognize it as a religion in its own right. It is unclear why the Islamic regime feels so threated by the Baha’i community since they are not allowed to participate in politics. During her stay in prison, Olya was pressured into recanting her faith by means of torture, alienation and emotional distress.  At one point while in prison, she was brought to court while her children were present and told that if she recanted, she was free to go home with her children. Isaac’s only encounter with pressure to convert to Islam was when he tried to join in the evening prayers with the Muslim prisoners. When the guard realized what Isaac was attempting to do, he told him “Nice gesture Brother, pretending to be Muslim. But it will not change a thing. Unless Brother, you wish to convert” (Sofer, Ch. 4). While it seems as though conversion to Islam is more of a sideline in Isaac’s predicament, it is the main event in Olya’s case.

                Septembers of Shiraz reminded me of Olya’s Story because of the similarities regarding their lives in prison and the torture they had to endure. When I read about Mehdi’s feet lashings in chapter two of the Septembers of Shiraz, I remembered a passage I had read in Olya’s book that talked of an old woman of eighty years old who had been thrown in the cell along with Baha’i women. She was a Muslim and was the sister of a famous tribal leader. Olya stated that “she had over eighty lashes on her feet, and they were terribly swollen although not bleeding” (Roohizadegan, 89). The similarity in this torture technique made me connect the two books as being from the same time period and about the same revolution. Other similarities I noticed in the treatment of the two characters is that both were put into solitary confinement, forced to endure hours of harsh interrogation and both are psychologically tortured by having a gun shot right beside their head. These two characters from two different books, both non-Muslims, endured much of the same treatment during their time in prison, however, the Baha’i and not the Jew was pressured into conversion to Islam.

The Janissary’s Paradox: A Common Theme

When the Ottomans took over control of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, they captured Christian children and converted them to Islam with the opportunity to climb the social ladder. If, however, the Christians refused to give up their past and war against their fellow Christians, they were promised a horrendous future. The conflict of choosing between one’s past and the opportunity for a greater future is called the Janissary’s Paradox, named after the converted Christians of the Ottoman Empire. Simply put, the Janissary’s Paradox means that one must deny their past to be able to acquire a future (Weinberg). This paradox is a common theme found among characters in different books such as The Bastard of Istanbul, The Naqib’s Daughter, and The Yacoubian Building.

                Armanoush, one of the main characters in The Bastard of Istanbul, is an Armenian American who is split between her Armenian identity and her American identity. She does not know which side she should identify with more or how to balance the two identities. She claims that by “being the only daughter of an Armenian father, he himself a child of survivors, and of a mother from Elizabethtown, Kentucky,” she knows “how it feels to be torn between opposite sides, unable to fully belong anywhere, constantly fluctuating between two states of existence”, which was in reference to a conversation about the Janissary’s Paradox (Shafak, Ch. 6). Armanoush is struggling to decide whether or not to acknowledge her past or her family’s past in her life and if it is actually important to her. There are other characters that fit the paradox more accurately than Armanoush.

                Existing as the daughter of a prominent Egyptian official who married her off to the French Commander is the epitome of the Janissary’s Paradox. Zeinab was married off to a Frenchman for her father’s own political gain. She was forced to live in a society that was unfamiliar and clashed with many of her moral beliefs. She had to choose between her old lifestyle and the new one put before her. If she abandoned her old ways, her own people would consequently lose their respect for her and treat her differently. If she chose to retain her old culture, the French would likely not communicate with her and as a result she would be left alone by herself. One of the first times Zeinab encountered the paradox was when French ladies dressed her up in French clothing and took her outside for the first time since she had married the Commander. She wanted to get out and be around other people but when she walked outside she “suddenly became aware of her naked neck; her bosom, exposed nearly to the nipple; her bare arms under the short puff sleeves. She held back for a moment, grabbing her shawl and winding it around her head and bosom, then held the fan up so that it covered her face (Serageldin, Ch. 6). Zeinab was uncomfortable with transitioning to a new culture. Her past had a big influence on her life.

                Yet another example of the Janissary’s Paradox is found within The Yacoubian Building in the form of a girl named Busayna. She has been fired from multiple jobs because of her staunch morals. She would let none of her bosses take advantage of her. Her mother starts putting pressure on her to get a steady job using the welfare of her younger siblings as a motivator. Effie, her cousin, convinced Busayna that it was quite normal for girls to let their bosses take advantage of them and not lose their virginity in the process. Allowing her boss some privileges would earn Busayna job security and extra money. However, when put in a situation where her boss first approached her she “was struck by strong and conflicting feelings-determination to make the best of the opportunity and the fear which despite everything still wracked her and made her fight for breath and feel as though she was about to be sick” (Al Aswany, Part 1). Busayna had to choose between her morals and the opportunity to gain a better future. This embodiment of the Janissary’s Paradox is commonly used by authors when creating a compelling character for their work.

Food and The Bastard of Istanbul by Kellie Baker

Although the struggle between the families and within the families of The Bastard of Istanbul is the main theme of the book, food plays a large role in the novel.  The food mentioned in the book serves as a connection point between the two families and also builds up to the climax itself.  It is both something that individualizes the characters and brings them together.


The most obvious difference between characters is that of Rose and the Armenian family.  Rose was a small town country girl who married Barsham, an Armenian man.  The Armenian food was unappetizing to Rose and was a point of disagreement between her and her husband’s family.  Once her marriage ended, Rose was able to cook the comfort foods she had been craving:  “From now on she would cook whatever she wanted.  She would cook real Kentucky dishes for her daughter (39)!”  This shows her distaste for anything different from her own culture and comforts.  Rose, however, was not the only one with an aversion.  Her husband’s family felt quite similarly about Rose, “When you come to think that the only food she knew how to cook was that horrendous mutton barbecue on buns (58)!”


Food separates not only Rose and her husband, but the sisters of the Kazanci family.  Asya can always tell who is making dinner by taste alone, “Each time she could easily tell if it was Banu or Cevriye or Feride who had prepared the peppers.  If it was Banu, they turned out to be full of stuff they’d have otherwise sorely lacked, including peanuts and cashews and almonds (24).”


Despite the bad blood between the Turks and the Armenians, some of their similarities are shown in the novel.  Many of the dishes eaten by the Turks are also eaten by the Armenians.  For example, when Amy is in Turkey staying with the Kazancis she sits down to dinner and is able to name their dishes, “I see you have made hummus, baba ghanoush, yalanci sarma . . . and look at this, you have baked churek!

‘Aaaah, do you speak Turkish?!’ Auntie Banu exclaimed (156).”


Auntie Banu’s surprise and misconception that Armanoush spoke Turkish shows that the Turkish family didn’t even realize that the Armenians diet is very similar to their own.  Food brings the members of both families together during meal times and is a reassuring substance.

Perhaps the most important role that food plays is that of the chapter titles.  The title of each chapter is the name of a food that was involved in a crucial moment for one of the characters in that chapter.  For example, chapter two is entitled “Garbanzo Beans”.  This is the chapter in which Rose meets Mustafa and thus the relationship between the Kazanci and the Tchakhmakhchian family was established, which gave Armanoush the opportunity to travel to Turkey and befriend Asya.  In the end of the novel, the reader discovers that the title of every chapter was, in fact, an ingredient in the dish ashura – a favorite of Mustafa as a young child, and ultimately the dish that was his downfall.  Each chapter was one more ingredient in the dish, and each had one more event that brought the characters closer together until the climax in which the all of the events culminated in Mustafa’s death.

The significance of food is evident throughout the novel.  The chapter titles symbolize the pieces of the puzzle that are added up to form a whole picture, which are the truth of Armanoush and Asya’s backgrounds as well as the demise of Mustafa.


Naquibs Daughter

Connections from Egypt to Iraq and Beyond in Samia Serageldin’s The Naqib’s Daughter

            As I read Samia Serageldin’s The Naqib’s Daughter, the question arose of why she chose to write about the French invasion of Egypt.  As I read this book and received the opportunity to speak to the author about the book, I made a connection with an event in our country.  Samia Serageldin spoke to me about her inspiration for The Naqib’s Daughter being the war in Iraq following the September 11th attacks on the United States.

In The Naqib’s Daughter, the French believe the Egyptians need their influence. There is “no doubt they would be welcomed by the Egyptians, to whom they would come as liberators rather than conquerors” (2).  The French believed they were helping the Egyptians by bringing modernity to the country and helping them develop and prosper as a country.  The Egyptians, however, did not feel the same. On the contrary, they felt as though they were being oppressed and being destroyed. The people of Cairo felt as if their traditions and ways of life were being completely destroyed as if they were losing their very identity.  In The Naqib’s Daughter, after Madame Verdier mentions how beautiful Zeinab has become by conforming to the French vision of beauty, Zeinab “didn’t think she looked pretty; her mother would have said she looked thin and drawn, and tried to stuff her with sweetmeats” (106). Zeinab and other Egyptians began to question the French and did not like when others traded their native traditions for the new “modern” ones of the French.

The many similarities between the Iraq War that followed the attacks on September 11th and the invasion of the French in the novel directly reflect the author’s inspiration from recent history to write this historical fiction.  Similar propaganda techniques were used by America as were used by the French in this book. When the troops went into Iraq, the United States’ intention was for the good of the Iraqi people and not to harm them.  President George Bush even mentioned in a press conference that “No troops would be withdrawn from Iraq as long as he was president because it was what the Iraqi people wanted” (Lynch).

Bonaparte attempted to keep the people of Cairo believing the French were there to bring the greatness of the Western culture to the people of Egypt. The Egyptians were to believe that the French were there to bring all the liberating qualities from the west such as democracy and freedom from their oppressors.  The Americans’ main purposes were to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction and then to root a democratic system in Iraq to free them from their oppressing and controlling leaders.  However, fear and a feeling of oppression from the Americans arose in the Iraqi people much as the people of Cairo.  The Iraqi people began to question the motives of the Americans as well. When asked for the three main reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, less than 2% chose “to bring democracy to Iraq” and the majority 76% chose “to control Iraqi oil”(Lynch). As in The Naqib’s Daughter, doubt and a feeling of oppression or destruction comes with many country invasions.  The feelings felt by the Egyptians were the same as the ones of the Iraqi people and the inspiration for The Naqib’s Daughter becomes quite evident when connected to events today.


Lynch, Marc. “What the Iraqi People Want.” Abu Aardvark. N.p., 23 August 2006. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. <>.

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