Honor by Elif Shafak is the story of three generations of a Kurdish family told from multiple first person points of view. Shifting backward and forward in time, the narrative weaves together its different threads. The novel reads much like a puzzle that has to be pieced together to arrive at a complete picture. By giving us access to the thoughts of each of the characters, Shafak helps us to understand the motivation for their actions. This includes Iskender who commits a murder having convinced himself it is the only way to preserve his family’s honor. We may not like his character, but we understand why he felt driven to do it.
Shafak explores the role of cultural values in our lives and how they can sometimes be constructive and other times destructive. The novel is about the impact of cultural baggage that is so imbued in us, we wear it like a second skin, unable to shake it off even if we are in a foreign land miles away from our place of origin.
The novel has a wide scope, taking the reader from a Kurdish village on the border of Turkey and Syria, to the streets of London and Abu Dhabi. It covers a broad spectrum of themes: the immigrant experience, racism, domestic abuse, parental love—or lack thereof, loveless marriages, oppressive gender roles, and the positive and negative legacies we inherit from our culture and our family.
I enjoyed certain aspects of the novel but at times felt it was somewhat contrived--as if the characters served as mouthpieces for ideas. I felt this was especially true of Zeeshon who seems to be inserted in the novel for the sole purpose of precipitating Iskender's ostensible redemption.