Book review: ‘Honour’ by Elif Shafak

Honour by Elif Shafak

Finding time to sit and read is quite a luxury at present, what with having two little ones to run about after, and a stack of seemingly never ending housework to get done. I was however, more than tempted by BritMum’s inaugural book club offering of Elif Shafak’s ‘Honour’, and was duly sent a copy. I was intrigued by the first line ‘my mother died twice’ and I managed to get the first couple of chapters read within an hour of receiving it!

Honour is a tale about the Topraks, a Turkish-Kurd family who move from rural Turkey in the 1970’s to London, taking with them the cultural values so deeply ingrained within their society, and the subsequent difficulties the family has in adjusting to its new life which ultimately lead to the horrifying murder, committed in ‘honour’ of the family’s name.

The story highlights the inequalities between genders in the Toprak’s culture– how men have ‘honour’ and women have ‘shame’. The story is complex and told from many different points of view, jumping between characters and time / location, which felt disorienting at first, but later on only added to the rich tapestry of the tale and helped to provide me with a deeper understanding of how and why the characters behaved in particular ways. The story felt fragmented as it is told in pieces, building up to the main act of the ‘honour’ killing, and details of this pivotal act are given fairly early on which takes a little tension out of the story telling, despite this, the story drew me in and even though I knew what the outcome would be, I found it hard to put the book down.

Admittedly, I was apprehensive about reading this book, as the culture is so far removed from my own, I really wasn’t sure it would keep my interest or that I’d have any empathy for the characters. I’m glad however that I persevered. Being a mum, I found it both disturbing and yet strangely compelling how differently boys and girls were (are still?) treated – little boys being ‘sultans’ and girls being forced to stay quietly in the background, accepting whatever ‘fate’ throws their way. The story depicts how cultural values can be so pervasive that even though they are female, mothers accept that women have ‘shame’ and men have ‘honour’, and are complicit in perpetuating the cycle with their children. The descriptions of life in rural Turkey, and the traditions and superstitions were so vivid that I developed an appreciation for the concept of family ‘honour’ and how it affects both men and women, even though I still find it disturbing and I found myself getting angry quite often at the injustice of how females are treated in such communities.

The book has a twist at the end which I wasn’t expecting. I won’t spoil it for you just in case you want to read the book!

Overall – the book was fairly well written with some good character development and vivid and colourful accounts of life in rural Turkey within a small and traditional community. The story felt a little contrived in places and the ending seemed quite rushed with a couple of outstanding loose ends. Given the subject matter however, the author does well to provide a sympathetic account on behalf of both the killer and victim. I would recommend the book.


Disclaimer: a free copy of this book was sent to me as part of the BritMum’s and Penguin book club. All opinions are my own.