Elif Shafak: The art of storytelling

Elif Shafak, arguably Turkey’s best female author, gives a speech at TED talks about herself, about writing and life in general. A delightful 20 minutes video that is worth spreading.

Her stories are the perfect blend of Western and Eastern cultures as she is able to represent both the modern woman and traditional Turkish woman conditions. Shafak spent time traveling and living all over the world (currently she lives in London) but she has a deep passion and insight into her home culture and she does one hell of a job of delivering unique perspectives on a variety of complex issues about Turkey. She has seen both sides of the coin and takes her wisdom from that. That is evident in many layers in her writing and public speeches. You can feel it in her general look on things but also in her formal apparoach that she so elegantly lays down without repelling the audience. Most of her books have two story strands; one of them illustratin , the fictional character filled with western norms and rational thinking, the next one based in her home country Turkey, most of the time in Istanbul, a city she deeply adores, that actually…

(…) makes [her] comprehend, maybe not intellectually but intuitively, that east and West are ultimately imainery concepts, and can thereby be de-imained and re-imained…

(Elif Shafak for Time magazine)

And the techniques she uses with those characters who happen to be the two main rolemodels from her childhood meet and without weighing one over the other, Elif Shafak explores both and most of all, remarks how they actually are “(…) (unlike) water and oil. They do mix. And in a city like Istanbul they mix intensely, incessantly, amazinly”, she told in a recent interview.

My first contact with Elif Shafak was her novel “The forty rules of Love”, a story evolving around one of the most influential poets the ottoman empire ever brought out, Rumi, a 13th century preacher and poet, and his development from being a very well liked and respected preacher to finding his true destiny in poetry and the endless love of the universe, while the other story strand, in the 21st century, evolves around a middle aed american woman, trapped in a nice but unexciting marriae, stumpling over exactly those RUMI poems that leave her puzzled and at the same time make her rethink her life.

I never was a religious person and always had a problem with the word god because it is dripping with meaning and importance, but the authors approach towards ettin the reader closer to Rumi’s philosophy or Sufism itself I couldn’t help but be intrigued by its simplicity, modesty and Elif’s ability of story-telling. On top of that she manages, and that is in all of her books I’ve read so far- to combine the meaningful content that is of importance to her to share, with a worthwhile, enthralling story, including shaping characters that visit you in your dreams.


Living in Turkey right now as a child of western civilisation,   the discovery of this author obviously has a lot of personal value to me, simply because it fits my current situation. I feel like one of  one of her characters, being fascinated by Istanbul, not being able to leave this city behind and discovering new sides of it everyday, I can deeply emphasize with both her characters and her own fascination with the city. And I am not the only one.