Do you ever get the feeling that you’re sometimes fated to read a certain book at a certain time? If so, then you’ll know just how surreal that experience can be. When a book really speaks to you and you can relate so deeply it feels like it was written just for you? yup, that was Three Daughters of Eve for me.
Peri, a wealthy Turkish housewife, is on her way to a dinner party at a seaside mansion in Istanbul when a beggar snatches her handbag. As she wrestles to get it back, a photograph falls to the ground – an old polaroid of three young women and their university professor. A relic from a past – and a love – Peri had tried desperately to forget.
The photograph takes Peri back to Oxford University, as an eighteen year old sent abroad for the first time. To her dazzling, rebellious Professor and his life-changing course on God. To her home with her two best friends, Shirin and Mona, and their arguments about Islam and femininity. And finally, to the scandal that tore them all apart.
I know people say this a lot but the very first line of this novel -if the blurb wasn’t enough – assured me I would both enjoy and be intrigued by this story:
It was an ordinary spring day in Istanbul, a long and leaden afternoon like so many others, when she discovered, with a hollowness in her stomach, that she was capable of killing someone.
I loved that we’re brought into Peri’s mysterious past at Oxford through a faded polaroid photo which is discarded on the floor. This is such a unique way to bring this part of the story to life and I loved how this also speaks to the power of a photograph. It’s like up until seeing the photo again, Peri has subdued that part of her life and seeing it again wakes her up to her current state in life.
The novel is split into dual timelines, 2001 and 2016 – the former set during Peris university days and the latter being set when Peri is now a wife, a mother and has left her youth behind. At Oxford Peri relishes the opportunity to be away from her dysfunctional family – her parents who are at odds constantly, her two older brothers who are diametric opposites and a culture she isn’t sure she fits into.
During her time there she meets the outspoken and beautiful Shirin, the devout and passionate Mona and the brilliant and controversial Professor Azur. Thus they come to be titled The Sinner, The Believer and The Confused. Each of the trio have a vastly different understanding of religion and God which causes tension between them but they also form a uniquely complicated bond. Shirin believes religion to be an oppressive tool, while Mona finds freedom through her headscarf and her closeness to God. Peri falls somewhere in the middle and this uncertainty is something which is a recurring theme throughout her life.
When she takes his class which is all about philosophy and God, she is drawn further and further into Azurs world of questions, theology and finally feels understood. That is until, a series of events which cause problems and a rift between the three friends…
I haven’t read any of Shafaks other work but if her writing in this one is anything to go by then I would really love them. Shafaks writing is so poetic without being unclear. There was the perfect balance here for me and I honestly look forward to reading any of Shafaks other work. Here’s a few examples of the stunning prose:
‘Invisible strands of solidarity threaded among strangers who, upon finding out they shared the same religion or nationality, developed an instant affinity’
‘School…not university or college, but school. That basic word that had an almost sacred quality for countless parents who, though not fully educated themselves, believed in education and invested all they could in their children’s future’
Shafak touches upon so much in this book which resonated with me in such a deeply personal way. The different characters relationships with faith, and the family troubles Peri goes through too, hit a chord in me. There were so many times I was reading and one of the characters said or thought something which I had thought before. It’s so unreal when fiction touches you in this way and for me it’s so rare.
Shafak also explores the gender politics and barriers in Istanbul society and how Peri and other women in her circle navigate these. I think it’s such a frank and sadly realistic portrayal of how outdated cultural norms are still so prevalent and how many times, it is women who have to bear the brunt of this injustice.
The message I took from the novel was tolerance between different believers and acknowledging that differences in opinion do not always have to result in an explosive argument. Sometimes you have to just accept that you follow your path and others theirs. The ending sort of surprised me and I’m sure some readers will be left questioning it’s merits but I thought it was oddly fitting the tone of the novel.
Overall, I found this book to be a revelation of sorts. I will definitely be reading more of Shafaks books in the future and Three Daughters of Eve just reinforces my love and belief in the power of fiction. For someones written words to affect another so deeply? That I can read a novel by a complete stranger and find communion with her characters? There’s a definite magic there.
★★★★★ – 5 Star Rating
Until next time,