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The Flea Palace
by Elif Shafak

Depending on ones perspective, the Flea Palace can be the story of a once stately - now dilapidated and flea infested - palace built by a Russian émigré for his wife. Or it can be the story of the mystery of the apartments' stolen garbage, a story full of sarcasm that ends in tragedy. Or it can be the portrait of modern Turkish society in the many characters presented: the university professor, the hairdresser twins, the elderly Madam Auntie, the religious Mr. Hadji Hadji, the naïve Blue Mistress, or the young student. It can be a nostalgic picture of Istanbul: the many communities at the beginning of the century (the white Russians, the Armenians, the Greek and the Jews), the traditional Turkish culture endangered by modernity and a longing for a lost equilibrium.

Shafak chose an interesting structure for The Flea Palace, beginning with a somewhat abstract narrative introduction about deception and truth. She then sets the premise of the novel's main action: garbage is piling up in the garden of the Bonbon Palace, and relentless hordes of bugs and a sour garbage smell are bedeviling its residents. This short introduction, though, is quickly left behind, as the narrative then turns to the prehistory of the current-day Bonbon Palace, beginning with the displacement of a cemetery and two vanished saints' graves for a construction project, and continuing with the story of its builder, a Russian émigré. From there, the novel returns to the present day, and quickly immerses the reader in the lives of the inhabitants of Bonbon Palace's ten apartments.

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