Thursday, July 03, 2008

John F. Kennedy


I’m a reader, I’ll read anything and everything; fiction, non-fiction, biography, graphic books, classics, chick-lit, true crime - whatever. But I must admit I read more fiction than anything else. The husband of a dear friend of mine is very disparaging about fiction, he says that it is tantamount to reading kids’ comics. I totally disagree, a novel can teach you as much if not more than some factual book - more about a place, a time, a situation, it can inspire you to find out about something you didn’t know.

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak is just such a book. Now that I’ve finished it I am keen to read and learn more about the relationship between Turks and Armenians, and the historical background to the ousting of Armenians from Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century.

Asya Kazanci is the bastard referred to in the title. A rebellious 19 year old, she lives in Istanbul with her mother (who she calls Auntie), her three aunts, and her grandmother and great-grandmother. She has no idea who her father is/was. The women in this all female household are an extraordinarily diverse bunch; her mother runs a tattoo parlour and wears mini-skirts and high heels, one aunt is a devout Muslim and a clairvoyant, another is a obsessive hypochondriac, whilst Petite-Ma, the great-grandmother, has Alzheimer's. The last male member of the family, Anoush’s uncle Mustapha left Istanbul before she was born, and now lives in Arizona with his American wife and her daughter.

Mustapha’s American wife, Rose whose first husband was an Armenian. He now lives in San Francisco, they divorced when their daughter Armanoush was a baby, and the girl has grown up shuttling between her parents. When in SF with her father and his mother and sisters, she is endlessly indoctrinated in what it means to be Armenian; but when in Arizona with her mother she is treated as a regular American girl. Confused by her divided loyalties to two different heritages, she eventually decides on a bold plan. Without telling either parent she will travel to Turkey and try to trace her Armenian roots and set them in context; to do this she invites herself to stay with her step-father’s estranged family in Istanbul . Her mother thinks she is spending time in San Francisco with her father, and her father thinks she is spending time in Arizona.

Her arrival into Asya’s slightly crazy family, causes a stir. Questions about the past, and long-forgotten secrets start bubbling up. These make both Armanoush and Asya re-evaluate themselves and their families and consider how much they should let old tragedies influence the course of their own lives. The book ends with a double twist - one strand of which seems very likely, though the other stretches credulity somewhat even though it ties everything together neatly for the reader.

The Bastard of Istanbul caused Elif Shafak to be put on trial in Turkey for “denigrating Turkishness” under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code and if found guilty she would have faced a three year prison sentence. The charges brought against her were because of some of the words spoken by Armenian characters in the novel. Thank goodness the charges were eventually dropped. I cannot understand how Turkey, which considers itself to be a civilised modern state, and is desperate to join the European Union, can have such oppressive legislation on its statute books. Any country which seeks to quell the freedom of its novelists is living in the middle ages as far as I am concerned.

Rated 4*


One of the lessons I recall from my schooldays was that one should always avoid the use of jargon in speech and writing, and I have always tried to do so. However, some words have jumped from being jargon into the general vocabulary and very useful they are too.

One such word is ‘brainstorming’ – I’m sure you know exactly what it means, a group of people getting together to gather ideas on a particular topic. The word was first coined by an advertising executive called Alex Osborn in the 1930s and it has been in regular use ever since.

However, the local Council in Tunbridge Wells has decided that the term is potentially offensive to people who suffer from epilepsy and other mental illnesses, and they have banned it from use. They want the term ‘thought showers’ to be used instead……..I am not making this up.

I think the dunderheads on the council who came up with this need to have a brainstorming session/ full frontal lobotomy/ total cranial transplant (choose which you prefer).

If I didn’t live in London I’d be writing to The Times signing myself off as: Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells.


Summer is here at last, and summer always means entertaining in the garden. Since I got back from my trip we have had no less than two Sunday lunch parties, and both days we had fabulous weather. A cold buffet is the easiest option for me to produce, everything prepped in advance so I can relax and chat to people - not to mention enjoy a glass or two of wine. This year I have rustled up my own variation on the old Coronation Chicken theme, and I think I will stick with this version from now on as it was so popular. As you will see, it is all a bit of a cheat, in that I already had the Chilli & Coriander Jam which I'd made some months ago, and I didn't make my own mayonnaise - life is too short. You could subsitute a good quality commercial chilli jam if you don't want to make it yourself. I also cheated by buying two

rotisseried chickens from the supermarket so I didn't have the hassle of roasting or poaching them myself, which was much quicker and easier


Serves 16-20 on a buffet

2 cooked chickens
1 jar Sweet & Spicy Chilli & Coriander Jam*
Equal quantity good quality mayonnaise (eg Hellman’s)
1 bunch fresh coriander
1 large red chilli
1 dozen quail eggs

Bring approx 8cms water to boil in a large saucepan, when boiling add the quail eggs and boil for exactly 4 minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and plunge into cold water immediately. Gently crack the shell of each egg while it is in the water to make shelling the eggs easier. When cool shell each egg. This can be done 24 hours in advance and the shelled eggs can be kept in cold salt water in a container in the fridge until needed.

Remove all the meat from the chickens and cut or pull into bite-sized pieces. The carcasses, skin and bones can be used to make chicken stock.

Mix together the jar of Chilli Jam and an equal quantity of mayonnaise to make a cold spicy dressing.

Gently fold the chicken meat into the spicy dressing.

Roughly chop the fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, and fold into the chicken mixture.

Serve on a bed of lettuce leaves and garnish with the halved quail eggs and sliced, de-seeded chilli, plus an extra scattering of chopped coriander.

* see separate recipe given in the blog on 1st April 2008


Nick said...

I've just read The Bastard of Istanbul myself and enjoyed it so much I've recommended it several times to other people. Apart from the interesting plot, it's very imaginative and humorous and surreal, every page is a delight. It's a hundred times better than her earlier book The Flea Palace, which is badly written, laboured, long-winded and very dull.

The 'brainstorming' ban is absurd. What evidence is there that anyone has actually been offended by its use? I'm all for treating people with respect and sensitivity but in this case it does seem like mindless do-goodery.

Jeanne said...

Mmmm, Coronation chicken! That used to be one of my favourites back home. Can I come to your next lunch party? ;-)

As for "though showers"... PLEASE!! Once more rampant and insane political correctness ruins the day. Like the school that has just banned sack races and the 3-legged race "in case children fall over". Umm... that's what children do! They fall over. They get up. They may cry a bit. And they survive!!

David said...

Well, I do not really suppose this may work.
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