Honor means respect. And there are numerous ways in which one’s honor can be lost. But what, and who defines the rules and governs the loss of one’s respect? Mostly as humans, it is an individual’s responsibility of guarding their esteem, but at times this is dictated by a society or a third person. And what happens when a stereotypical society breeds into a younglings head the rules of honor, the value of esteem and the position of respect simply owing to his gender? A hapless end- that’s what happens.
Honour by Elif Shafak starts with the mention of an anecdote by the author when she was 7-years-old and would hear noises of domestic abuse from their neighbor’s house. She says: In the evenings they listened to the shouts and the swearing. In the mornings’ everything went about as normal. The entire neighborhood pretended not to have heard or seen anything. And so, she dedicates this book- To those who hear, those who see- a very apt dedication.
The author with her beguiling words and exceedingly brilliant storytelling skills gives us one of a family, twin-sisters, and a younger generation of three- each withholding in their personalities starkly different opinions and thoughts. But what binds kinship is love and empathy, and without it, one can only see it falling to the ground like a house of cards: the love between the sisters, love between a mother and her children, lack of love with a partner, and placement of honor that has been fed by an orthodox society above love and empathy. The book embodies “honor” in more than one way- the story is primarily based on honor killing but how what, and why it unfolds the way it does and leads to the killing forms the structure of the book. Aside from the honor killing, the prose sheds light on how honor is perceived differently by the characters in the book- a woman’s, a man’s, and in a foreign land as an outsider. Instead of dwelling on the plot, which would also equate giving out spoilers, I would want to leave you with a sliver of curiosity- for what must a book look like, be like if it focuses on rudiments like a patriarch, belongingness, governance of honor, and the killing. The book ticks off every strong suit of Shafak- Oscillating timelines, presentation, strong character portrayals especially women, infusion of Sufism- wrapped in her iridescent writing that mystifies and radiates her prowess.
In all its entirety, Honour is a beautiful book, the sort of beauty that lies in a desert- vast beyond our eyes, in a tree without leaves but rooted, and in the eyes of a traveler that brims with hope when he thinks he has spotted an oasis in the desert but instead is a mirage.
For a reader who adores her work and loves reading her books, Honour can not be skipped.