Monthly Archives: April 2012

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. <>.

Is Darina a Liberated Woman in Al-Joundi’s The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing

Throughout the course of the memoir, Darina puts herself out there, showing us all the events in her life that led up to her father’s death. She leaves nothing back, no gory detail, no matter how unseemly. One may argue that is because, as her father says, she is a liberated woman and does not care what the public thinks of her life or her decisions. However, throughout her memoir, it is clear from her actions that she is in fact not a liberated woman. Darina may claim she is a liberated woman fighting for her right to do as she wants, but in reality it is apparent that she is still her father’s little girl and needs a constant force in her life to guide or command her.

            While Darina’s father claims that he wants to liberate his children, he seems to want to control them. He forbids them from religion altogether and also will not let them enter in the war effort, even though he went to “liberate Palestine” at one point. The first instance of Darina and her father disagreeing though can be seen when she openly tries to become religious, “He was choking and I retorted, ‘You have to respect my convictions, that’s what you taught me.’…’Convictions, my ass, come on, drink, I’m telling you,” (Al-Joundi 88-89). From here she completely breaks down and does what he says, and it is apparent he has no intention for his daughter to lead her own life with her own beliefs.

The influence of Darina’s father can also be seen in her sex life. When her second marriage fails, Darina’s father suggest, “’…why not try women, perhaps that’s where you’ll find your happiness?’” (Al-Joundi 121). Darina has no problem following this advice, and while some people may think she is so liberated that she is fine with changing genders, it is clear from past encounters with her father that Darina just listens to what her father says.

Another crucial element missing from Darina’s liberation is that she is still concerned with what the public thinks of her. When one thinks of a liberated woman, it is of a female that is in complete control of her life and has no regard for what animosity the public may have towards her. However, Darina is still shackled by the torments of name calling and rude gossip, “In the city I was being called every name under the sun and thought I would become a respectable woman once I was married,” (Al-Joundi 105). If Darina was truly liberated and lived by her own convictions as her father wished, she would not need a husband to become respectable, but instead could do it for herself.

Darina’s “memoir” is both frank and deceptive. She bares her soul for us to see and judge, but under the pretense that she has led this trailblazing life. It is true that she was scandalous and participated in many things women typically would not, but that is not the definition of liberated. Darina could only be a truly liberated woman if she chose her own path and did as she wanted, with no regard for her father’s restrictions or societies.

Tragedy in the Eyes of a Child

Throughout the world, turmoil, war, and devastation occur daily, but life- long effects on the people that must experience tragedy are rarely recognized or examined, especially the impact on children. Dalia Sofer’s The Septembers of Shiraz gives readers a unique window into the thoughts and feelings of a nine-year-old girl, who plays a main role in the novel. Shirin must grow up fast in the short span of time that the story takes place. Reading Shirin’s innermost thoughts makes it hard to ignore that in the future, she will experience some life-long effects of that traumatic year.

The family that the book focused on had serious issues aside from what was going on in the outside world with the Islamic revolution. Communication amongst members of the family was absent, which does not make it surprising that her mother never explained where her father was, or how she felt about it. Left alone to her thoughts, Shirin felt a great deal of guilt, which led her to the risky, heroic activities she was involved with. Shirin began stealing files containing information of people who are supposed to be arrested, because she feels that she should try to help others not share the fate of her father. Through the same activity Shirin carried the guilt that she could be caught, and more harm would come to her family.

Shirin’s emotional state is clear when she says, “I am nine years old. Do I deserve to reach ten?” (Sofer, 183) A small girl questioning whether she should live to see her next birthday is heartbreaking. She continues to explain how she has lost her good friends, her brother is away in America, and her father is becoming harder to remember as well. Her mother, who is caught up in all of the drama of their lives is unable to be there to comfort and guide Shirin, which leaves Shirin further isolated. No one can answer her questions, because there are no answers to give. Everyone in the story is trying to figure out what they should do themselves. Young children like Shirin are left to try and figure out what they should do and to make drastic decisions that in normal conditions such young people would not have to make.

While she was in school, Shirin’s teacher discussed the war effort, and asked who would volunteer. Only two students volunteered, one of them being Shirin’s friend Leila. After class, Shirin and Leila discuss Leila’s will to volunteer for the war effort. Shirin had told Leila that she thought children were used to clear the mines, and Leila responded, “So what? Someone has to clear the mines.  And it’s better to save the grown-ups for the real fighting. You know, they give you your one key when you volunteer” (Sofer, 243). The fact that Leila was ready to commit a potentially suicidal mission is alarming. Even more disturbing is that the teacher gave the students who hypothetically volunteered to go to war a night off of homework. In the age Shirin was growing up, she was surrounded by the ideas that going to war and death were commendable actions. How would she be impacted for the rest of her life? It is at her age when we absorb what is around us and are easily swayed by higher authority figures.

Shirin’s role in The Septembers of Shiraz is a reminder that the children are immensely affected by war, conflict, and events greater than themselves. It is easy to ignore the children by telling ourselves “Oh they are young, they do not understand what is going on,” but we must realize that those children represent the future leaders, mothers, and citizens of our world, and what they experience in their youth can change their lives forever. What will they remember and learn from their childhood? Will children of tragedy remember that lying, death, war, and violence are necessary parts of everyday life or that they felt so alone that their lives were no longer worth living? These burning questions will stay with the children as they age, and become adults, forcing them to decide if the cycle of war and destruction will continue.

The Problem of Rape in South Africa

Shenika Rountree

South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world. The statistics are chilling: one in two women are raped; women are more likely to be raped than to learn to read. For every 25 men accused of rape in South African 24 walk free, making the act of pressing charges almost useless. The term corrective rape was coined in the early 2000’s by human rights activist to describe the criminal act of a man forcing himself on a lesbian woman believing it will change her sexual orientation. Children are among the highest growing demographic of rape victims. Sexual violence towards children, including infants has increased over 400% in the last decade.  It is said that practices such as gang rape; child rape and corrective rape are common because they are considered a form of male bonding and dominance

The effects of rape on a woman are destructive to her emotional and physical health. Rape of a young girl can cause everything from internal injury to death. The rape of children often comes from the misguided belief that sex with a child will cure AID’s. Along with the risk of permanent emotional distress rape victims also run a high risk of contracting HIV from their attackers. The rate of HIV in South Africa runs rampant with nearly 20% of the population facing the disease. These women not only face rape but the possibility of a deadly disease to constantly remind them of the terrible event.

The president of South Africa himself is an accused rapist. Jacob Zuma, who was elected President in 2009, was tried and acquitted of raping an HIV-positive woman. He was acquitted because he told the court that the woman had dressed provocatively according to the traditional standard and that it was against Zulu culture for a man to leave a sexually aroused woman unsatisfied. He was aware of her HIV status and had unprotected sex with her anyway. He stated that he showered afterward to “cut the risk” of transmission. This is the same man that headed the National AIDS council in his country. The leader of the country set a dangerous and irresponsible example for the men of his country to follow.

The police of South Africa do little to deter or to educate men on the damage of rape. Men can get as little as five years in prison for raping a women and when they are found guilty of  rape crimes and can serve as little as a fourth of their sentence if found guilty. Many times rapes are committed alongside murder. The most notorious case came in 2008 when South African football celebrity Eudy Simelane an openly gay GLBT activist was gang raped and murdered. Days before her murder she had been receiving death threats because of her sexuality. She often told stories to her support groups about how she had to fight off the men attempting to rape her as a teenager to correct her homosexuality. After being raped she was stabbed 25 times and left to die in a ditch. Of the 5 men who committed the crime only two were convicted of rape. The other three men are on bail avoiding prison through years of case continuances.

            I feel that Eudy Simelane’s celebrity could have been used to highlight rape and murder as the major issue it is. It would have been an amazing learning opportunity but because of South Africa’s desensitization to the issue of rape the story was neither shocking nor did it stir up any feelings among the community. Women should be provided a safe haven to be themselves. There should be more outlets for women to protect themselves.

            Rape is a scary issue that cannot be denied. As a whole this country has a devastating rape epidemic. A recent study found that more than a quarter of men admitted to having raped a woman and of those 46% had committed a rape more than one time. The study, conducted by South Africa’s Medical Research Council, reveals a deeply rooted culture of violence against women, in which men rape in order to feel powerful, and do so with impunity, believing that their superiority entitles them to vent their frustrations on women and children. The men most likely to rape, the researchers found, were not the poorest, but those who had attained some level of education and income

            The placement of blame lies in the cultural perception of rape. Rape is seen as commonplace and acceptable. These cultural biases make it nearly impossible to curb the rate of rape and prosecute those who commit these heinous acts. No women should have to live in fear that her life is in danger because of her sexuality. With the high rate of HIV in South Africa I am astonished that rape of innocent women is not a larger issue. Having the highest rate of rape in the world along with one the highest rates of new HIV cases every year should be enough for the government to stop and pay attention to the issue of rape. Young women with full lives ahead of them are being raped and infected with a deadly disease all due to their vulnerability. The lives of the women in South Africa being raped mirror an image of women throughout history fighting for equality under a system that gives men the privileged ownership over women’s bodies. The publicizing of the rape crisis in South Africa should help bring the attention of international activitists to this problem. The women of South Africa need help and support as they work toward finding solutions and empowerment.



Mona el-Tahawy on Lack of Women’s Progress and the Firestorm that followed

Here is an article that appeared in Foreign Policy, which sent Twitter, FB, and all forms of social media buzzing:,0 discussing “the real war on women.”

For an example of a response, see