Elif Shafak was born in Strasbourg. When she was only one her parents divorced and her mother, who became a diplomat, took her to Turkey and raised her with the help of Shafak’s grandmother. Shafak has also resided in the US, Spain, Germany, and Britain. She defines herself as a Turkish writer and Istanbul is essential to her writing. Today, she’s one of the most widely read female Turkish writers. Her mother is a Westernized, rationalistic, and modern woman. Her grandmother is traditional and superstitious. Her mother instilled the love of books, European culture, and her grandmother introduced folklore, oral histories, and Eastern heritage. I haven’t read her books yet (I intend to), and I’m fascinated to find out how these influences come together.
Shafak can dream in three languages: Turkish, English, and occasionally in Spanish. Spanish was her second language, however she doesn’t write in Spanish. When asked how she decides which language to write in her response was that every story comes with its own style and language. Her mind and heart are open to the possibilities and she lets the story decide. She did add that usually she writes in English and then has a professional translator convert her books into Turkish.
She started writing poetry in English as a child. Since she moved a lot, writing became a
constant in her life. And she has a love of words, including old words that have been left out of new Turkish dictionaries. She believes that words and language are older than us. There are no old words. No useless words, and that the loss of these older words and the ability to read older scripts in her country has caused a huge rupture in Turkish memory. When someone’s vocabulary shrinks, so does their imagination.
Listening to her speak at the London Book fair was fantastic. And it has inspired me to seek out copies of her works. I glanced at the library’s website and they do have copies of several of her novels. Honour, her eighth novel, was published in January and her memoir, Black Milk, will be released in the UK in August. Have you read any of her books.