Photo from Hurriyet
On the occasion of the publication of Elif Shafak’s new book, The Forty Rules of Love (Viking 2010), in English, I’m posting some discussions of the book and her life as an author. There’s more about her on her website (click here). I admire her books very much — her creativity and inventiveness with language, her ability to inspire the present with intellectual and moral insights from the past. I also admire Elif Shafak as a person, sincere and vulnerable, who has turned hardship into shared treasure through the alchemy of fiction.
Here are some excerpts from reviews and interviews (Hurriyet also has an interview in English, click here):
In Turkey, award-winning novelist Elif Shafak is a mega-star, the bestselling author of nine acclaimed books (seven of which are novels), and the most widely-read female author in the country… (click here for the rest of this interesting interview with Elif Shafak by LA Books Examiner)
…Shafak, 39, studied international relations and political science in the US and spends several months a year teaching at the University of Michigan. Of her nine books, four have been published in the US. Her work is translated into 25 languages.
In 2006, Shafak shocked her readers with Black Milk, a nonfiction account of her battle with postnatal depression after the birth of her daughter. It will be published in English next year. “The title came from my grandmother saying that if you cried too much the milk would turn sour. I wanted to show that mother’s milk is not always as white – that is, spotless – as society likes to think. Out of that black milk I got ink, with which to write not just about my experience but that of other women.” Men wrote her letters, thanking her for explaining the syndrome.
“The topic was not discussed in Turkey because motherhood is so sacred here,” but also it was not considered a “literary” topic, she says. “It was too physical, too petty. It’s an irony that my grandmother’s generation was more in touch with the body than today’s. They had wisdom passed down through the ages about not leaving a woman alone for 48 hours around the birth. They tied red ribbons around the room to ward off bad spirits. We might dismiss that as superstition but maybe it helped prevent the kind of anguish I went through.”
Magical realism permeates Safak’s fiction, with djinns (spirits) interrupting and influencing characters’ thoughts, prompting inevitable comparisons with Isabel Allende. Both embrace superstition as part of their writing routine. While Allende begins each new book on the same day of the year, Shafak always writes hers wearing a pair of purple, fingerless gloves. Around her neck she wears a small talisman to ward off the evil eye.
Born in Strasbourg as the only child of a philosopher father and a diplomat mother, Shafak remained with her mother when her parents divorced and led a nomadic life growing up in Madrid and Amman. She admits she has found it hard to settle down. “I commute between cultures, genres and languages. The story tells me which language to write it in.”
She published her first novel at 24, taking her mother’s first name as her pen name (which is also spelt Safak and Shafik). Now she divides her time between Turkey and the US with her husband, a journalist, and two children.
[Her new book] The Forty Rules of Love is imbued with sufi mysticism, which may puzzle Western readers unfamiliar with the teachings of Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, philosopher and mystic whose followers founded the order of Whirling Dervishes. The novel shifts to and fro between his travels on a spiritual path and the world of Ella Rubinstein, an American Jewish housewife (think of a heroine written by Australia’s Lily Brett) who is reading a manuscript about Rumi for a publishing house… (click here for full interview)