Monthly Archives: May 2012

An Interpretation of Auntie Banu’s Tarot Cards in The Bastard of Istanbul

In The Bastard of Istanbul, Auntie Banu was known for her practices as a soothsayer and her ability to tell the future by the use of tarot cards and coffee cups.  On Asya’s 19th birthday, Auntie Banu turned over the 3 cards, one of which was The High Priestess, the other The Tower, and finally one about an unexpected visitor (pg. 71).  By including this presentation of cards, the author has foreshadowed events to come and given the reader an opportunity to predict the outcome.

The first card, The High Priestess is “the symbol of unconscious awareness – an opening to imagination and hidden talents but also to the unknown” (pg. 71).  This reference could pertain to the knowledge presented to Auntie Banu by her djinni that sits on her shoulder.  Mr. Bitter has unlimited knowledge that he is willing to share with Banu, if she indeed wants the information.  Later in the novel, Banu gives in to Mr. Bitter, and he presents information pertaining to Asya’s father and Armanoush’s past (pg.225).  Upon Armanoush’s arrival, the family is also enlightened about the Armenian genocide from an Armenian perspective and is able to hear about the “injustice” they continued to experience.

The second card, The Tower, is “a symbol of tumultuous changes, emotional eruptions, and sudden downfall” (pg.71).  This description corresponds with the arrival of Armanoush, and continues to include the arrival of her stepfather Mustafa.  After not hearing from Mustafa for about 20 years, the Kazanci family discovered that he married a non-virgin and had a stepdaughter (pg.148).  His stepdaughter, Armanoush developed a close relationship with his “real” daughter, Asya, and they had emotional discussions about their pasts and identities.  Although she was a Turk, Asya was naïve to the genocide situation and played the provoking role in both Café Kundera and in the chat room when invited by Armanoush (pg. 212, 260).

An extreme “emotional eruption” came with the arrival of Mustafa as he was forced to return to Istanbul and face his horrendous past.  Those who knew about Zeliha’s rape were cautious around Mustafa, while those who did not were excited to see him after nearly two decades.  Zeliha was nervous for Asya and her first encounter with her father that she never knew and would not ever know as a parental figure (pg.302).  Mustafa’s arrival was the most emotional for Zeliha and Banu for they both knew of the horrible act he had committed and of his desire to forget his own crime.  Zeliha does not refrain from mentioning Mustafa’s risk of death due to his age, and it is clear that she would not have much sympathy if he did in fact die like the other men in their family (pg.332).  This scene also foreshadows the downfall of Mustafa at the hands of Banu and the poisonous pomegranate.

Lastly, the third card predicts the arrival of a “visitor from beyond the ocean” (pg. 71).  This card could either be pertaining to the arrival of Armanoush or Mustafa for they both came to Istanbul from America and travelled “beyond the ocean”.  Also, these arrivals were significant and led to the emotional outbursts and tragedies predicted in the two previous cards.  In the end, the author used the tarot cards to foreshadow and outline the future events to come.  By including this scene, the author encourages the reader to complete the novel and discover the meaning behind the predictions.

Religion as the Basis of Identity in The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing

The journey of life is made up of obstacles and beliefs that help us form our identity. An identity is a way of classifying ourselves and conforming into a social unit, or in Darina’s case, rebelling against it. Darina El Joundi, author of her own memoir, The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing, struggles with her identity because she is unwilling to conform to any classification of people. In a country like Lebanon where there are seventeen different religious affiliations, and a government that determines its positions based on religion, it is important for an individual to identify with a religion in order to be accepted in the social regime. The cause of her struggle lies in her father’s rejection of religion of any form, which leads to her own refusal of religion. Religion has for many years been encouraging towards group identity, contributing towards the development and management of a government, and giving us an identity. Without religion in her life, Darina has no role models apart from her father, a shallow support system, and difficulty identifying herself within the war effort.
Religion, in the simplest of definitions, gives people a name with which to classify themselves. It represents our beliefs, reasoning for our actions and traditions, and guidelines for how we should live our lives. Without religion, one is without guidance. Darina’s father is her lone role model, because of their shared rejection of religion. The average individual has influences from his or her mother, father, teachers, religious parties, political parties, etc. Darina is unable to look to her mother, because she is in support of the general image of women, and does not believe in the liberated lifestyle Darina is trying to exhibit, “I controlled myself. I shouldn’t scream, shouldn’t raise my voice: it is important to give the impression that I had been permanently tamed. My mother was smiling” (page 135). The Lebanese belief is that women are supposedly the shadows of their men. As displayed by a conversation between Darina and Nabil, a man who had previously raped her: ““Leave me alone, I’m a free woman.” He didn’t take me seriously, “You poor thing, only men are free”” (page 101). Without guidance, and a father who taught her nothing of the conventional right and wrong of the general public, she does not behave in an acceptable way according to her peers. Additionally, the ideals that her father taught her were not the ideals encouraged by the fathers of other women her age living in the religious community.
My father was an odd bird. He was born in 1933 in Salamiyeh, a town in northern Syria where poets, writers, and Communists lived. Most of its inhabitants are Ismailites, a Neoplatonic sect for whom reason takes precedence over faith. The Ismailites have a temple where they pray to Aristotle and Plato instead of Jesus and Mohammed. (page 11)
Furthermore, religion provides the believer with purpose. Darina’s sister found her purpose in imitating the beliefs of her lover, who was a Muslim. “In her passion she imitated everything he did and began to say her prayers and observe Ramadan” (page 88). The Christians have the purpose to glorify Jesus Christ for having spared them, “they would throw themselves so covetously on Christ’s statue. They’d grasp his hips and cover him with noisy kisses from his knees to his chest” (page 16). Darina has no belief in a higher being, and only knows what she experiences with her own senses, which is obvious from her love for living on the edge. “My philosophy of life was very simple. I was convinced that I was going to die at any moment, so, hungry for everything, for sex, drugs, and alcohol, I doubled my efforts” (page 100). Her craving for risk taking is apparent in her description of her brush with death during the game “Russian Roulette,” as she displays no fear when she pulls the trigger, or even when she sees her friend die at the shot of the gun.
He pulled. His brain 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…I opened his left hand, I took his dose, and kept on. As he had said, the most important thing is to keep playing. “The his is more important than death.”
Religion can be found in the core of love, as well as war. In the memoir The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing, the conflict between the Christian Phalangists and the Palestinians lead to a war, “Actually, the war had been brewing for years, for a century.” (page 27). For twenty years the Phalangists fight the invading Israelis with one offense leading to a retaliation from the other.
Gunshots were fired, men were dashing toward the orchards. My mother came running home from work holding a box of pastries…she’d seen the Phalangists block a bus full of Palestinians, make them get off, and then slaughter them one by one. (page 24)
During the night Palestinian militiamen had taken over the Christian village of Damour and decapitated more than seven hundred people—women, children, and elderly citizens—in retaliation for a massacre the Christian Phalangists had committed in a Palestinian camp. (page 29)
As the war drags on, Darina is no longer able to identify with her prewar state. At the end of the twenty years of fighting, when the Israelis finally evacuated Lebanon, she struggles with her self, because war is the foundation to the identity that she tries to develop throughout her childhood and emerging adulthood. Without the war, she has to regress to the foundation of her identity, of the values instilled in her far before she can even remember, which proves near impossible. “I wasn’t able to live without the war anymore, my body had be programmed for it ever since childhood.” (page 118) After the war ended, the identity of the individuals that roam the ruins of Beruit are skewed as they try to erase the identity they were forced, or willing, to conform to in the war effort.
In the street, as I watched other people, I was constantly wondering which of them had killed and which of them hadn’t, who had raped and who hadn’t…after the war they all put on the same mask, executioners and victims mingling.” (pages 119-120)
The war not only forced the participants to reevaluate their identities, comparing each other’s prewar, war, and postwar identities, but disabled the citizens to openly identify with their religious affiliation. Movies and television were no longer allowed to stream religious movies or shows, and even the names of the characters could not have any religious background, “it was illegal to allude to any religions or religious denominations.” (page 120)
Religion is one of the strongest contributors to the base of our identity. Darina lacked religion, which made the base of her identity rocky. Therefore, she felt the need to experiment with sex, drugs, alcohol, and risk taking, to try to either make up for her lack of identity, or to force a certain identity onto her, only to find it was not suitable. The war, which evolved through conflicts concerning religion, was the foundation of her identity. The rocky identity she had tried to conform to throughout the war could not survive in a world without war. Religion is at the basis of the identity of an individual, and influences the lives of a society.

Psychological Analysis of the Identity Crisis of Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian According to Erik Erikson

According to renowned Psychologist Erik Erikson’s theory of development, older teenagers and young adults are in the stage of Identity vs. Role Confusion. During this stage, adolescents have either committed to a set of morals and ideas about themselves that they can relate with others and have thus successfully developed an identity, or are unsatisfied with their self-image and confused about how they relate to the rest of the world.  When the latter is the case an identity crisis generally occurs. There are four statuses in relation to identity crisis that an individual can hold: diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and identity achievement (Sigelman, 358-359). In Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul, Armanoush, the daughter of an Armenian-American father, and a small town, American mother, goes through an extensive identity crisis that spans through all the identity statuses and leads her across the world and into the past to find her true self.

Being a child of resentful, divorced parents, Armanoush spent her entire life being passed back and forth between Arizona, where her overbearing, flighty mother and Turkish stepfather lived, and San Francisco, where her father and his huge, interfering, Armenian family lived. Because each side was vastly different and demanding, Armanoush was forced to continuously change her identity to appease both sides. For example, concerning her dating life, “Armanoush had tried to date Armenian boys in San Francisco and anyone but them when she was in Arizona” (Shafak, 92). Because of these differing expectations, she was never able to choose her own identity for herself but rather, accepted the identity bestowed upon her by her parents and family. At this point Armanoush is in the foreclosure status, briefly committing to whatever identity the side of her family she is with wants at the time.  However, because she goes back and forth so often, she is never able to fully commit to either. When she was young and only concerned with pleasing her family, and not with figuring out who she really was, Armanoush could also be said to have been in the diffusion stage, not entirely committed to one single identity, but not having experienced an identity crisis yet (Sigelman, 359).

As Armanoush gets older, however, she realizes how unfulfilled she is with her lack of a complete identity and begins experiencing an identity crisis. “Because of her fragmented childhood, she had still not been able to find a sense of continuity and identity” and she decides that it is time for her to search for herself on her own, coming to the conclusion that “she had to make a journey to her past to be able to start living her own life” (Shafak, 116). Armanoush realizes that she has been living the Janissary’s Paradox (Shafak, 114), abandoning her Armenian community in order to make peace with her mother, and abandoning her American heritage in the presence of her Armenian family.  She questions her Armenianess and chooses to explore this identity by traveling to Istanbul, the birthplace and home of her grandmother before the Armenian Genocide and diaspora, knowing that the answers she seeks can only be discovered in the past.  Once there, Armanoush stays with her step-father’s Turkish family and searches the city for any remnants of her Armenian ancestors.  At this time, she is in going through the moratorium status, which is evident in the fact that she is undergoing an identity crisis and is actively pursuing different identity roles (Sigelman, 358).

When Armanoush is unable to find any traces of her Armenian family in Istanbul she takes mainly to interacting with the Turks and comparing herself to them. She finds that they are similar in many ways, including cuisine and traditions, yet they differ drastically on their interpretations of the past.  Armanoush, who grew up being told the precise details of her family’s history in the Armenian Genocide, is concerned with the past and believes it directly influences her, which is why she looks to it to find herself. However, when she tells the Turks about the injustices suffered by her people because of their ancestors she is met with disbelief and denial. Because the Turks view the past as a separate time, not continuous with the present, they can sympathize with her but are unable to feel personally responsible for what their people did, that is, if they even admitted that the genocide actually occurred. This difference of opinion helps Armanoush solidify her identification with her Armenian past, stating on her Armenian online chat room, “I have never felt more Armenian in my life. You see, for me to fully experience my Armenianess, I had to come to Turkey and meet the Turks” (Shafak, 182). Nonetheless, Armanoush develops a strong affection for the Turkish family she is staying with and begins to better understand them.  She is finally able to see the beauty in the city that exiled her family so long ago.

It was precisely then that Armanoush felt the pulse of the city for the first time since she had arrived in Istanbul. It had just hit her why and how people could fall in love with Istanbul, in spite of the sorrow it might cause them. It would not be easy to fall out of love with a city this heartbreakingly beautiful (Shafak, 257).

By showing Armanoush that not all Turks are the arrogant, self-righteous people her father’s family describes them as and helping her discover and experience the city of her ancestors, the Turkish family is able to help her reconcile her past while affirming her identity as a proud Armenian. During this time, Armanoush successfully reaches the status of identity achievement by resolving her identity crisis and committing to a particular set of beliefs and values (Sigelman, 360).

Armanoush starts off the novel not fully committed to any identity and confused as to where she fits into the dynamics of her world. Determined to figure out where she belongs, she travels to another continent to explore her ancestors’ homeland and delve into her past, where she eventually finds the answers she is looking for and commits to the identity she discovers. According to Erik Erikson’s developmental theories, this is a perfect example of a successful identity crisis.

Works Cited:

Sigelman, Carol K., and Elizabeth A. Rider. “Forging A Sense Of Identity”. Life-Span Human Development. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012. 358-360. Print.

Nina Simone – Ambiguous Freedom

Ambiguous Freedom in “The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing”

            Freedom means different things to different people and people go to various means to find liberation.  In “The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing,” Darina Al-Joundi lives her life on the idea that nothing should be forbidden in order to be free, but she is really controlled even more by her quest for liberation.

Darina’s Papa is one influence in her life that is controlling her.  Any time Darina attempts to make her own decision, her father forces her to rebel.  Darina said, “No, I don’t want your whiskey, I’m observing Ramadan.” Her father becomes angry and she then says, “He came rushing at me, grabbed me with one hand, and with the other forced me to drink the whiskey.”  Darina has no freedom to make any kind of religious decision because of her father.  He says, “Look daughters, look how they’re down on the ground. are never to offer your ass up to the sky.  Offer it to men as much as you want, but not to the good Lord.  You may drink, go out, lose your virginity, but in my house, I don’t ever want to see anyone pray or fast.”  Freedom is making decisions for yourself and letting no one stop you and Darina is controlled by her father instead of truly being liberated.

Her need to feel free and rebel is controlling as well.  She is consumed and trapped by the constant need to rebel in drastic ways in order to feel free.  An example of this is when she says, “My virginity was weighing on me heavily and I felt I needed to rid myself of it as a burdensome object, not by making love, but in some other way.”  Darina feels that even the act of making love is in some way taking away from her freedom by being controlled by the other person.  She solves this by taking her own virginity so that no one else can have that control over her.  Darina also “started doing coke daily, two dollars a gram.”  She began a dangerous addiction as a form of freedom.  Her association of rebellion and freedom causes her to make drastic and possibly dangerous decisions. The rebellious needs compromise the non-rebellious decisions she may have made on her own.

Darina wants to be liberated and live a life free from control, but she is still controlled and is not free at all.  Her father’s oppressing influence on her decisions and her pressing need to rebel from the social norm causes Darina’s true decisions to never be known.  Darinia makes decisions based on other influences besides her own thoughts which prevents her from ever being free from control.

Women are the Backbone of late 18th-Century Cairo, Egypt in Samia Serageldin’s The Naqib’s Daughter

Posted By: Mansi Trivedi

In The Naqib’s Daughter Samia Serageldin describes the stories of several Egyptians during the late 18th-century French colonization of Egypt conducted by General Bonaparte. Serageldin’s vivid imagery, character development, and overall historical accuracy and research give the reader a startling image of Egyptian society under French rule. Though most Western societies generally associate conservative views, when it comes to women and women’s voices in society, to Middle Eastern culture The Naqib’s Daughter seems to break these notions by subtlety outlining the roles both men and women played in society, and reveals the momentous role women played in supporting the community through the French’s colonization of Cairo. Serageldin’s writing gives the women in her novel a strong voice, and its effect is to enlighten the reader of the central a role women played in 18th century Cairo.

With all the Mameluke leaders and men fighting the French along the Nile, the people of Cairo turn to Sitt Nafisa to protect them within the community. Even before the French invasion Sitt Nafisa is a prominent figure within the community, and has dreams to build a school for orphans and to complete the building of her sabil. Her influence is cemented within the community when her presence is able to calm down the riots that occur after the French defeat the Mamelukes along the Nile. The community storms Zeinab’s house and begins to harass her family until “…a voice [rings] out like a bell. Zeinab could not make out the words, only the calm authority behind them…the furious shouts died down to angry lowing, then to shamefaced muttering. Zeinab’s mother and father are released” (83). While men are the protectors within the community Sitt Nafisa takes on the part in their absence and shows the pivotal role women played in society’s function and protection, especially in the midst of an invasion that pulls the men to war. Initially it may be hard for the reader to accept that within a culture that calls for conservative women behaviors women can actually hold much influence in society. Serageldin effectively relays the essential function of women by giving Sitt Nafisa’s voice so much authority that one word from her can cause an entire mob to quiet down.

Sitt Nafisa’s influence does not only stretch across her own community but also across the French. She understands that she must be diplomatic, and in doing so she is able to keep her status not only among her own people, but among the French as well. She supports the foreigners in her community by providing them refuge in her home during the French Invasion. The French immediately realize the influence she has within the community and Bonaparte sends his son to her house to extend his greetings to Sitt Nafisa as soon as he arrives in Cairo. Furthermore the French continue to send diplomats to her in order to discuss matters of urgency such as the plague. For example, Magallon and the doctor come to Sitt Nafisa in order to ask for her aid in spreading proper hygiene and quarantine methods through the Egyptian community. Magallon claims that “[this] is where your help will be invaluable, madame. There is no one in this city with your influence, not even the ulema” (98). This quote only further validates the role Sitt Nafisa plays within the Egyptian community, but in the French community as well.

While it is easy to become lost in the description of the Mameluke men and the role they played in society it is much harder to notice the integral role women played in Egyptian society during the French invasion and colonization. While the Mameluke men are fighting the French to regain control of Cairo women such as Sitt Nafisa seem to take charge of the community, and act as diplomats between Cairo’s people and the French. Serageldin does a wonderful job in displaying all different types of women from strong, and influential (Sitt Nafisa), to young and naïve (Zeinab). Yet through her story the women’s strength stands out amongst the prideful strength shown by the Mameluke men in the novel such as Elfi Bey and Murad. Considering the rather conservative view Islam has regarding women in terms of gender relations, societal roles, and general behavior it was startling to read a novel based in Cairo where the strongest characters are women despite the hoards of men that play vital roles in society, yet it is the women’ s strength and stories that really seem to drive the plot of the story and effect the community despite the victimization characters such as Zeinab suffer due to the patriarchal culture. While the men fight to save their country from invasion the women protect the city’s people from injustice and harm making them the true heroes in Serageldin’s novel.



























Darina Al-Joundi’s Distinct Story Telling Makes Her Experience Come to Life in The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing

Posted By: Mansi Trivedi 

Experiences described in novels and memoirs are hard to imagine unless the reader can relate directly to these experiences.  While reading I was reading Al Joundi’s memoir it was very difficult to relate to the incidents that occurred in her life due to the drama and pain surrounding each experience. Rape, abuse, and identity crises are already topics that are hard to relate to unless the reader has experienced them himself or herself, but Al-Joundi’s experiences were even harder to relate to because she herself is so removed for them. In order to make her experiences as real and imaginable as possible she told “the story of her childhood, her wars, her drug habit, and her love affairs without any self-censorship” (5). The openness and frankness in the way Al-Joundi tells her story makes herself seem removed from her life events, but her distinct story telling style makes it easier for the reader to relate to her disturbing experiences.

Al-Joundi’s life is marked by many shocking memories of injustice. Many of the memories concern her inability to identify with any one religion. Her father is very anti Islam and sends his daughters to a Christian private school. Al-Joundi shows great interest in catechism where she learns stories from the Bible. One day she is prevented from attending her favorite class because she is accused of being Muslim due to her family’s Syrian heritage. In revenge she pees in front of the holy water. Al-Joundi describes her punishment in few words saying “She stopped my ears up with Laughing Cow cheese and then locked me up in the cell with rats, where I spent many hours. Only this time I did not expect Jesus Christ to arrive” (27). The lack of description in this quote gives the reader the ability to imagine for him or herself what Al-Joundi’s punishment must have felt like by literally putting themselves in her situation and envisioning what it must feel like having cheese shoved in their ears. Though Al-Joundi does not use emotionally charged language or give much description of her feelings the bluntness of her last statement reveals how this one incident in her life caused her to lose faith in god as a savior. And with one quotation the reader is able to fully understand Al-Joundi’s experience that day and feel sympathy for her despite the lack of sympathetic language, and her own obvious detachment to the event itself.

Al-Joundi’s almost cold and unforgiving story telling style was not limited to her scenes of punishment in school, but also the death that she witnessed while growing up during times of war. When describing death it becomes more apparent that she removes herself emotionally and almost physically from the events occurring around her. For example, she describes witnessing someone get shot “I saw a young man insult a pedestrian who was standing in the middle of the street. The latter pulled a gun from his pocket, ordered the young man to get out of the car…and apologize. He refused. The other put a bullet between his eyes and then went on his way” (92). In this example she maintains her distance from the event emotionally and physically by only describing the actions of the two men involved in the quarrel. Al-Joundi gives no hint to what emotionally she must have felt seeing someone get murdered. In fact the tone of the quote and her description of the man walking away almost makes the event seem normal. Yet, despite her ability to separate herself from the events the tone she uses gives the reader the capacity to realize how horrifying war is and its long lasting effects on people that can make murder seem like an everyday normal occurrence

This same blunt, frank, static tone is used to describe her most intimate encounters with people. For example, she describes playing a game of Russian roulette with her friends Ramzi and Hussein as they are taking hits of cocaine. Al-Joundi once again removes her self from the incident “He pulled. His brain 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 left off…I opened his left hand, I took his dose…’The hit is more important than death’” (114). While she describes what she physically did she does not give an indication to how she emotionally felt watching her friend die the way she does for Hussein. This lack of information forces the reader, just like in the previous example, to imagine for themselves the state Al-Joundi must have been in while playing this dangerous game. By giving very few details and distancing herself from the event Al-Joundi forces the reader to become one with the text by placing themselves almost literally in her shoes to get a better idea of what the effects the drugs and the pain had on her that she had become desensitized to death itself.

 In The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing the authors use of tone and style of writing greatly affects the readers ability to interpret the text. It seems that the more Al-Joundi removes herself from the text and her writing the reader is given more room for interpretation and understanding. And in the process the reader actually begins to understand some of Al-Joundi’s horrifying life experience and they begin to associate themselves with each one of her experiences.