My reader friends have really good things to say about Elif Shafak, particularly ‘The Bastard of Istanbul’ and ‘The Forty Rules of Love’. But I didn’t like either of those books much. I found them a bit slow and they spun around in circles without the stories going anywhere for the most part.
I picked up ‘Three Daughters of Eve’ as I wanted to give Shafak another chance, for the sake of one of my closest friends who absolutely adores her.
I wouldn’t say Three Daughters of Eve is great. It takes time to build up and there are clichés that make you cringe. But the inner turmoil of the main character where faith and religion are concerned is palpable and the novel has conversations and contemplations on god that make it a riveting read. Shafak’s writing has also become much more nuanced than before.
The book starts with the mugging and attempted assault of a wealthy Turkish woman, Nazperi Nalbantoğlu, or Peri for short, on her way to a fancy dinner party. This incident leads her to think back about her life—growing up in Istanbul and then moving to Oxford University for higher education, her friendship with two Muslim women, and a scandal that changes everything.
Narrated in two timelines—the present day (which is 2016) and 1990s/early 2000s, the story moves seamlessly between the chaotic and complicated Istanbul and the contrastingly calm Oxford. The novel also has Shafak’s trademark touches of magical realism—Peri experiences visions of a baby in a mist that is both comforting and unsettling. I have to say Shafak is skilled at alternating between timelines and infusing a bit of surrealism into everyday life.
The blurb says it’s a story about three friends—Peri, Mona, and Shirin—but it’s actually mostly about Peri. There’s very little about Mona or Shirin, with the former making fleeting appearances. I wish Shafak had focused a bit more on Shirin because I liked the unapologetic, fierce, and rebellious Shirin I got a glimpse of and felt her story could have been more interesting than Peri’s.
As for Peri, she has had a troubled childhood, having been torn between her mother’s and her father’s versions of religion. Her mother was a devoted Muslim and her father was always questioning the idea and existence of god, and thus getting into heated arguments with his wife. Peri never knew just what to believe in and the confusion follows her well into adulthood. It is this figuring out what or who god is and eventually coming into her own that is the theme of Three Daughters of Eve.
The verdict: The book deserves a read as it makes you think and rethink about your faith. It could have been better. For me, the ending was a little off. But it’s not bad. I would definitely recommend it, especially to those who have always been undecided about god and wanting to make up their minds.