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Turkish Immersion in 'The Bastard of Istanbul'

Two years ago, Turkish author Elif Shafak was tried for, and subsequently acquitted of, the crime of "insulting Turkishness." It's a charge that has been leveled against dozens of Turkish authors, and it's made some of them, including Shafak and Nobel winner Orhan Pamuk, minor celebrities in the West.

But Shafak, who grew up internationally as the daughter of a single mother employed by Turkish embassies all over the world, is also a bestselling author in Turkey.

Her novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, is steeped in the sights, colors and smells of Turkey's capital, and it grapples with the dark legacies of the country's Armenian genocide.

But it's also a tender and spirited novel about women, including the title character, a headstrong Turkish teenage girl who adores Johnny Cash; her mother, a sexy matriarch who runs a tattoo parlor; and the Armenian-American woman with whom they share old blood.

This is Shafak's sixth novel, and her second book written first in English. Shafak told the London Independent newspaper last year, "If it's sadness I'm dealing with, I prefer Turkish; for humor, I prefer English."

This reading of The Bastard of Istanbul was recorded in February 2008 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington.

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Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.