Elif safak

Elif Şafak
Elif Şafak
Born (1971-10-25) 25 October 1971 (age 42)
Strasbourg, France
Occupation Writer
Literary movement Postmodernism, historical fiction, magic realism, literary fiction
Notable work(s) The Gaze
The Bastard of Istanbul
The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi

Elif Şafak (or Shafak,[1] born 25 October 1971, Strasbourg, France) is an established and outspoken Turkish author, columnist, speaker and academic. "As Turkey's bestselling female writer, Şafak is a brave champion of cosmopolitanism, a sophisticated feminist, and an ambitious novelist who infuses her magical-realist fiction with big, important ideas...".[2] Critics have named her as "one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Turkish and world literature".[3]

Her books have been translated into 39 languages,[4] and she was awarded the honorary distinction of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2010.

Şafak has published twelve books, eight of which are novels. She writes fiction in both Turkish and English. Şafak blends Western and Eastern traditions of storytelling, bringing out the myriad stories of women, minorities, immigrants, subcultures, youth and global souls. Her writing draws on diverse cultures and literary traditions, reflecting a deep interest in history, philosophy, Sufism, oral culture, and cultural politics. Şafak also has a keen eye for black humour, with "a particular genius for depicting backstreet Istanbul."[5]


Elif Şafak has published twelve books, eight of which are novels.

Şafak's first novel, Pinhan (The Mystic) was awarded the Rumi Prize in 1998,[6] which is given to the best work in mystical literature in Turkey. Her second novel, Şehrin Aynaları (Mirrors of the City), brings together Jewish and Islamic mysticism against a historical setting in the 17th century Mediterranean. Şafak greatly increased her readership with her novel Mahrem (The Gaze) which earned her the "Best Novel - Turkish Writers' Union Prize in 2000 [7] Her next novel, Bit Palas (The Flea Palace, 2002), has been a bestseller in Turkey and was shortlisted for Independent Best Foreign Fiction in 2005.[8][9][10]

Şafak wrote her next novel in English, The Saint of Incipient Insanities, which was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2004. Her second novel in English, The Bastard of Istanbul, was the bestselling book of 2006 in Turkey and was longlisted for the Orange prize.[11] The novel, which tells the story of an Armenian and a Turkish family through the eyes of women, brought Şafak under prosecution but the charges were subsequently dismissed.[12][13][14] Following the birth of her daughter in 2006 she suffered from post-natal depression, an experience she addressed in her first autobiographical book, Siyah Süt (Black Milk). In this book Şafak explored the beauties and difficulties of being a writer and a mother. The book was received with great interest and acclaim by critics and readers alike, and became an instant bestseller.

Şafak's novel The Forty Rules of Love focused on love in the light of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. It sold more than 750,000 copies, becoming an all time best-seller in Turkey [15] and in France was awarded a Prix ALEF* - Mention Spéciale Littérature Etrangére.[16] It was also nominated for the 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.[17] Her latest novel, Iskender (Honour), has topped the best-seller lists and has been acclaimed by both critics and readers of various ages and backgrounds. The novel has opened up a vivid debate in Turkey about family, love, freedom, redemption and the construct of masculinity. It was nominated for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize and Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2013.[18][19]

Academic life

In addition to writing fiction, Şafak is also a political scientist. Having graduated from the program in International Relations at Middle East Technical University. She holds a Masters degree in Gender and Women's Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science. Her thesis on "Islamic Mysticism and the Circular Understanding of Time" was awarded by the Social Scientists Institute.[20] Şafak is a regular contributor to major newspapers in Turkey as well as several international daily & weekly publications, including The Guardian website. She has been featured in major newspapers and periodicals, including the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Economist and The Guardian. Her nonfiction work covers a wide range of topics, including belonging, identity, gender, mental ghettoes, daily life politics, multicultural literature and the art of coexistence. These essays have been collected in three books, Med-Cezir (2005), Firarperest (2010), Şemspare (2012) She is a TED Global speaker, a member of Weforum Global Agenda Council on The Role of Arts in Society and a founding member of ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations).

Early life

Şafak was born Elif Bilgin in Strasbourg to philosopher Nuri Bilgin and Şafak Atayman who later became a diplomat. When she was a year old her parents separated and Şafak was raised by a single mother.[21] She says not growing up in a typical patriarchal family had a great impact on her work and writing. She incorporated her mother's first name, which means Dawn, with her own when constructing her pen name.

Şafak spent her teenage years in Madrid and Amman before returning to Turkey. She has lived around the world -Boston, Michigan, Arizona, Istanbul and London- and her writing has thrived upon these journeys. She sees herself as not just migrating from country to country, city to city but language to language, even in her native Turkish she believes she plays to the vocabularies of different cultures. Through it all she has maintained a deep attachment to the city of Istanbul, which plays an important part in her fiction. As a result, a sense of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism has consistently characterized both her life and her work.


Istanbul has always been a central part of Şafak’s writing. She depicts the city as a ‘She-city’ and likens her to an old woman with a young heart who is eternally hungry for new stories and new loves. Şafak has remarked “Istanbul makes one comprehend, perhaps not intellectually but intuitively, that East and West are ultimately imaginary concepts, and can thereby be de-imagined and re-imagined.” [22] In the same essay written for Time Magazine Şafak says "East and West is no water and oil. They do mix. And in a city like Istanbul they mix intensely, incessantly, amazingly."[22]

In a piece she wrote for the BBC, she said, “Istanbul is like a huge, colourful Matrushka - you open it and find another doll inside. You open that, only to see a new doll nesting. It is a hall of mirrors where nothing is quite what it seems. One should be cautious when using categories to talk about Istanbul. If there is one thing the city doesn't like, it is clichés."[23]

She lives with her husband and two children and divides her time between Istanbul and London.


Şafak first became interested in Sufism as a college student in her early 20s, and it has reverberated through her writing and her life ever since. In The Forty Rules of Love, she tackles the subject head on with a modern love story between a Jewish-American housewife and a modern Sufi living in Amsterdam. Their unusual story is set against a historical background that narrates the remarkable spiritual bond between Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. She said in an interview given to The Guardian, "The more you read about Sufism, the more you have to listen. In time I became emotionally attached. When I was younger I wasn't interested in understanding the world. I only wanted to change it, through feminism or nihilism or environmentalism. But the more I read about Sufism the more I unlearned. Because that is what Sufism does to you, it makes you erase what you know, what you are so sure of. And then start thinking again. Not with your mind this time, but with your heart."[24]

Motherhood, feminism and post-feminism

Elif Şafak grew up with two very different models of Turkish motherhood – her modern, working, educated mother and her traditional, religious grandmother. Her writing has always addressed minorities and subcultures, such post-colonialism and post-feminism, and in particular the role of women in society. Following the birth of her daughter in 2006 she suffered from postpartum depression, a period she then addressed in her memoir, Black Milk: on Motherhood, Writing and the Harem Within which combines fiction and non-fiction genres. Şafak has commented concerning the book: "I named this book Black Milk for two reasons. First, it deals with postpartum depression and shows that mother's milk is not always as white and spotless as society likes to think it is. Second, out of that depression I was able to get an inspiration; out of that black milk I was able to develop some sort of ink."[25]

Awards and special recognition

  • An active social media figure with over one million Twitter followers http://twitter.com/Elif_Safak
  • 2013 Prix Relay des voyageurs, Crime d'honneur (Phébus), 2013 [26]
  • Honour, Long listed for Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2013 [27]
  • Member of the 2013 judging panel for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.[28]
  • Honour, Long listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2012 [29]
  • The Forty Rules of Love, Nominated for 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award [30]
  • Prix ALEF - Mention Spéciale Littérature Etrangère, Soufi, mon amour (Phébus), 2011
  • Marka 2010 Award, Turkey
  • Chevalier Des Arts et Lettres
  • Ambassador of Culture Action Europe Campaign, 2010
  • Special Envoy, EU-Turkey Cultural Bridges Programme, 2010
  • Turkish Journalists and Writers Foundation "The Art of Coexistence Award-2009" [31]
  • International Rising Talent, Women's Forum - Deauville, France 2009 [32]
  • The Bastard of Istanbul, Long listed for Orange Prize for Fiction, London 2008 [11]
  • The Gaze, Longlisted for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, United Kingdom 2007 [33]
  • Maria Grazia Cutuli Award - International Journalism Prize, Italy 2006 [34]
  • The Flea Palace, Short listed for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, United Kingdom 2005
  • The Gaze, Union of Turkish Writers' Best Novel Prize, 2000[35]
  • Pinhan, The Great Rumi Award, Turkey 1998 [6]


Dutch translations
English translations
French translations
German translations
  • Spiegel der Stadt (translation of Şehrin Aynaları from Turkish), Literaturca Verlag 2004, ISBN 3-935535-06-6
  • Die Heilige des nahenden Irrsinns (translation of The Saint of Incipient Insanities from English ), Eichborn 2005, ISBN 3-8218-5750-1
  • Der Bastard von Istanbul (translation of The Bastard of Istanbul from English), Eichborn 2007, ISBN 3-8218-5799-4
  • Der Bonbonpalast (translation of Bit Palas from Turkish), Eichborn 2008, ISBN 3-8218-5806-0
Italian translations
Polish translations


External links

  • Elif Shafak Official Web Site
  • Curtis Brown Literary and Talent Agency
  • TED Talk: The Politics of Fiction
  • http://twitter.com/elif_safak
  • CNN Elif Shafak on The Power of Stories at TED
  • CNN International Elif Shafak's Istanbul
  • The Guardian Elif Shafak: Motherhood is sacred in Turkey
  • BBC Radio World Service The Strand Elif Shafak 'Read My Country'
  • Novel excerpt in Bosphorus Art Project Quarterly
  • Book Preview: Elif Shafak's "Black Milk": On Writing, Motherhood and the Harem Within Qantara.de

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