So one fine afternoon, you find yourself walking down the aisles of your favorite book store and you stumble upon a section having books of your current favorite author: Elif Shafak. You pick up one particular title, carefully turning it over to read the cover and the plot strikes a chord within you.
Three Daughters of Eve. This was the book I happily picked up that day and brought it home to be engrossed into for the next several weeks. Little did I know that as much as I would be engrossed into the first few parts, I would be utterly disappointed when the book ends.
Set in Istanbul in 2016 with flashbacks to the past both in Istanbul and Oxford, the story is about a wealthy Turkish housewife and mother called Peri, who is on her way to a lavish dinner party when her bag is snatched by a beggar. Caught in a scuffle with this tramp, Peri notices a photo fall to the ground. It is of herself with her two best friends and their Professor from her days at Oxford as a student. This particular photo takes us on the journey to Peri’s past as a child and to her dysfunctional family life. To her youth in Oxford where she is a confused student of Philosophy trying to stitch back the pieces of her soul. To the house she shared with her two best friends Shirin, the bold, rebellious and the beautiful, and Mona, the shrewd religious one, and to all the debates they had about God, Islam and feminism, and finally to her obsession with her Professor which ultimately tears all of them apart.
Peri had had a troubled childhood where she was never able to grasp the concept of God. Her mother was a devoted Muslim, you know, the kind who talks about fearing God and minding prayers but when you get into a debate about God with them they have nothing inspirational to share. On the other hand, her father was the polar opposite — always questioning the idea of God, and getting into heated arguments with his wife. In the midst of this all, Peri was a lost case. always caught in between, always troubled.
As much as I loved how the story progressed, I felt that there was a lot of coverage given to Peri’s childhood and very little to her time at Oxford where it is said that they had engaging discussions about God with her Professor that led her to finally be able to understand God. The story also mentions that she eventually fell in love with this Prof, but I think the whole concept of love was pretty weak in this novel. I would rather call it Peri’s obsession with her Prof instead of love because, let me be bitterly honest, that is what it seems to be. I’m not going to go into the details of how it was an obsession because then I would be giving away very important spoilers and I don’t want to do that for the readers. But I would still hold the opinion that if the author was portraying Peri’s emotions, however one-sided, as “love”, then there was a lot that this Prof could have been to her in her journey towards understanding God. I mean, I don’t understand why we had to go into details about Peri’s brothers and their dysfunctional lives when those chapters could have been utilized to seduce us with Professor Azur and his ideas about God. Also, there is a very rushed up chapter towards the end which takes us into Azur’s past and I feel that it doesn’t do any justice to the intensity of his character.
I’m also not happy with the ending of the novel because I feel that the attempts that Peri made to fix the past didn’t measure enough to the gravity of trouble she had caused for her Professor and to her friends. We also are told that Peri’s husband, Adnan, played a very important role in gathering Peri’s broken heart, but that poor man gets absolutely not enough credit.
What I loved about this book: the word play, the way the author describes Istanbul, the way the story jumps around different points in time and lastly, the unconventional teaching methods of Professor Azur and his bedazzling personality.
There’s one character, however, that I deeply admired in this book: Shirin. Peri’s best friend at Oxford. This woman was the definition of being woman. Unlike her name, she was unapologetic, rebellious, had a strong head above her shoulders and clearly, had the Prof under control. I mean, who needs to be a damsel in distress when you can be so much more. Shirin was just that. I wish she had been the protagonist!
So my verdict for this book is: It’s a good read. Engrossing at times. But eventually it leaves you with a very strong feeling of incompleteness.