I review Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak
The story as I see it: without too many spoilers!
Our main protagonist, Peri, is confused – about her body, how to belong at Oxford University and how to understand God. This is the first time that Peri has been out of Istanbul – she both cherishes and retreats from her newfound freedoms.
Peri meets a Professor Azur, whose reputation precedes him – a man of appealing intelligence and status. Persuaded by rebellious muslim, Shirin, Peri attends his famous seminars on God and begins to find herself more and more troubled. Azur’s teachings are controversial, challenging everything, even the way his students lead their life. Peri finds herself lost in his questions, so lost in her own head that she believes Azur is the answer to all of her problems.
However, as an intellectual romantic, Peri falls in love with the idea of a man, overlooking his flaws. Azur is intrigued by Peri as a tortured soul – he only seems to show remorse at encouraging her destruction of self, upon hearing about her suicide attempt.
The characters in this book are complex but Shafak has trouble deciding which ones to focus on. The book is non chronological and leaps from 2001 to 2016, when Peri has a family of her own. Early on in the book, a photo of Peri with friends Shirin and Mona and Azur is flagged as significant, but Mona is never fully given space to breathe as a character within the plot. I wondered what really motivate these three girls to call themselves friends, as there is rarely a fond moment between them.
The setting of Oxford University may alienate or obscure some of the plot line – the intensity with which the girls apply themselves to their study and Peri’s inability to relax and enjoy her time at university without anxiety, can perhaps only be understood within the context of a high pressure institution. University can be isolating but each time the book changed time zone, I lost the mounting pressure of the situation which builds to the climax of the court scene.
Although the ending had lost some of its desired impact, and a few ends seemed rushed, this book left me thinking about my relationship with God. Today very rarely do we continue to study, learn and indulge curiosity about God. The topics and conversation encouraged by Shafak are important if we are ever to be able to talk openly between faiths.
Are we a generation of disengagement when it comes to deep conversations about God? Leave a comment with your thoughts!
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