Elif Shafak's Three Daughters of Eve is about one woman's search for individuality amid religion's binaries

For someone who is reading Elif Shafak for the first time, Three Daughters of Eve is hard to turn down.

Even though the third person narrative moves back and forth in time, from 1980 to 2016, the storyline is not hard to follow. But, the narrative keeps the reader wanting for more. The abrupt ending leaves you with mixed feelings. On the one hand you are left satisfied, and on the other, you are left asking for more.

 Elif Shafaks Three Daughters of Eve is about one womans search for individuality amid religions binaries

The ending of Eli Shafak's Three Daughters of Eve is both abrupt and yet satisfying

The book, like most of Elif Shafak’s other novels, is set in Turkey. One can find parallels drawn between Turkey of the 1980’s, 2000 and 2016. Not much has changed. From Ataturk to Erdogan, the need to seek approval from the West remains persistent throughout the span of time the book documents. The rich are getting richer.

Since it is set in Turkey which is yet to become a part of the European Union, there is increasing non-uniformity when it comes to religion. There is the Westernised form of Islam, practised by characters such as the protagonist’s father, and then there is her pious mother, who believes in the old notions of the religion. As for Peri, the protagonist, she often believes that she is ‘stuck in between’ them.

This is further reiterated in Oxford. Her two flatmates in her second year at the university are Shirin, an upper-class Iranian Muslim, and Mona, an Egyptian American — a staunch believer of Islam who wears a hijab, a marker of her identity.

Peri, like in Turkey, finds herself ‘stuck in between’ for a second time.

To find answers to her questions about the existence of Heaven and Hell, or even God, she chooses to attend Professor Azur’s seminar on God. Her interest in the subject he teaches turns into an infatuation. When he says that he does not feel the same way about her, she feels betrayed by him. She had trusted him despite people advising her against his teaching methods.

Shafak’s portrayal of religion has depth in it. It does not choose one kind of Islam, or any religion. Rather, it talks of power which is an implicit attribute of religion. By the end of the book she etches the idea of religion beautifully:

“Roles shifted, words never stayed still. The shape of life was a circle, and every point on that circle was at an equal distance from the centre-whether one called that God or something else altogether.”

It becomes a point due to which even the protagonist decides to shed her own hesitations about life. At the outset, it might seem to be an exotic Turkish novel, when there are instances of the presence of jinns — a white baby that the protagonist sees whenever she is in trouble. But it has a sense of universality which becomes clearer as the mystery unfolds.

The timeline of events does not disrupt the narrative's flow. The 1980s time span is mostly about her childhood, while the 2000s mark her Oxford days in England. Meanwhile, the narrative of 2016 is set in Istanbul, in a party hosted by a rich businessman who works with her husband. This setting has men and women from the higher rungs of Istanbul's society.

It is a smooth read, and is cleverly written. The vividness in the narration comes from its well-etched characters. The use of a polaroid picture of three girls — the sinner (Shirin), the believer (Mona) and the confused (Peri) — as they called themselves becomes an interesting start to the plot.

Shafak has also touched upon the topic of womanhood where despite the penetration of Western influences in Turkey, a woman’s virginity and purity remains a sensitive topic. But it has been mildly explored. There are moments of feminism. For instance, the protagonist, a woman with an Oxford education in Turkey, has been portrayed as more or less equal to the men in Turkey.

Shafak’s own stand towards religion and Turkey's position vis-à-vis the European Union are quite conspicuous. In an interview she had once said that she tries to encourage individuality, considering the cultural space that Turkey is.

Like I mentioned before, the ending seems so abrupt, it leaves one yearning for more. But, on the other hand, it does leave one satisfied, because nothing more could have come of Peri's story.

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Updated Date: Jan 08, 2018 15:01:28 IST

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