Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

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Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Em Richardson
Reviewed by Em Richardson
Summary: More a commentary on Islam than an account of Peri's 'scandalous' time at university, this novel includes different views on whether or not Islam can be 'modernised' to suit life in the Western world, and on how the religion treats women.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: September 2017
Publisher: Penguin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0241978887

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Set in Istanbul in 2016, Three Daughters of Eve centres on Peri, a Turkish woman who finds herself thinking back to her years at Oxford University to distract herself from a boring dinner party. Her reminiscing is triggered when she finds an old polaroid of herself, her friends Mona and Shirin, and the rebellious Professor Azur. Much of her thoughts revolve around the scandal that prevented her from graduating from her dream university. More of a commentary on religion than a story, the novel asks many questions about faith - in particular, Islam - and whether its customs and traditions can be adapted to suit modern life.

One thing I loved about the novel was the clear contrasts Shafak created between her three main characters, making them live together in a situation highly reminiscent of some sort of odd social experiment. All of the girls were raised in Muslim countries or families; however they have since taken very different paths in life, and have very different, contrasting beliefs as a result. On the one hand, there's the feisty Shirin, described as The Sinner, who has long since denounced the religion she was born into, and is happy to tell anyone who asks her about her beliefs just that. Her behaviour and appearance are as Western as her religious views. On the opposite extreme is Mona, The Believer, who never leaves the house without her headscarf and is prepared to defend Islam from any criticism. Peri herself - The Confused - is stuck somewhere in the middle of the two, both figuratively, because of her beliefs, and literally, when the two often engage in heated debates.

The theme of contrast within Islam is present throughout the novel - the very reason Peri is undecided about what she actually believes about Allah and religion stems from the fact she grew up with a devout Muslim Mother, while her Father hardly practised his religion and drank most of his time away. In 2016, this debate is depicted as still being very much present, as some members of the dinner party are conservative Muslims, while others are happy to accept Western influences like alcohol. The other underlying contrast present is, as can be expected, between normal, peaceful Muslims, and religious fanatics, as shown by the references to 9/11, and the distress it causes both the Muslim and non-Muslim characters.

The character who tries to make sense of religion, and why it can be such a divisive subject, is Professor Azur. I found him to be both arrogant and pretentious, yet this adds something to the narrative, which plays with the idea that, whether God exists or not, no one should be egotistical enough to suggest they understand him fully.

Obviously, a key part of the plot is yet another example of contrast, given it flits between Oxford in the early 2000s and Istanbul in 2016. There are a couple of issues I would raise with both settings. In the 2016 part of the story, the opening is thrilling, as Peri is robbed on the streets of Istanbul, showcasing the more hostile side of the city. Unfortunately, the rest of the 2016 timeline is far from exciting, as we are shown the other, more affluent side of the city, in the form of an excruciatingly boring dinner party. The same can be said of the events at Oxford - I loved seeing the city from the eyes of Peri, who had never visited a Western country before, and getting to know Shirin and Mona alongside her, yet I felt the actual scandal that tore them apart was a little anticlimactic. Similarly, I disliked the overall ending of the novel, as I felt it was a touch too ambiguous.

Ultimately, my favourite part of the novel was not the plot or the characters, but the points it made about religion. I was fascinated by the debates over Islam, on whether or not it can be modernised or influenced by the West, as well as how literally its followers should take the Quran. In a world where Turkey, an Eastern country, is increasingly exposed to influences from its EU neighbours, this debate seems more relevant than ever before.

I'd suggest anyone who enjoys books about Muslim women might also enjoy A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, which also addresses some of the dilemmas women face in Islam.

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Buy Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak at


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