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Shafak ​uses the narrative structure of A Thousand and One Nights to construct a story-within-a-story, as the mystery of the apartments stolen garbage is considered from a variety of perspectives. There is the narrator, a womanizing, raki-swilling academic with a penchant for Kierkegaard; Hygiene Tijen, the clean freak , and her lice-ridden daughter Su; madly flamboyant Ethel, a lapsed Jew in search of true love, and the charmingly naive Blue Mistress whose personal secret is just one of many hidden within the confines of the building. Add to this a strange, intensifying stench, the cause of which is revealed at the end of the book, and we have a metaphoric conduit for the cultural and spiritual decay at the heart of Istanbul.

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