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Extended Elif Shafak interview


Elif Shafak talks about the ideas and philosophies reflected in her novels, and her reasons for writing about them.

• It matters greatly to me to write about people who have been forgotten, overlooked, ignored, whose voices have been suppressed. Whose stories have been pushed to the margins. In Turkey we have learned nothing!

• I don’t like absolute certainties of any kind. So when I meet people who are very sure, it makes me question. I like people who are not certain. I like modesty. Humbleness. People who can say, I’m still learning. It’s about not knowing the answers, but knowing which questions matter.

• Issues around women are crucial to me. I’m a women’s rights activist and I support LGBT rights. I grew up observing my mother’s struggles in a male-dominated, conservative and sexist society. In the Middle East there’s a huge backlash. The title of my new book? We talk about the ‘sons of Adam’ but where are the daughters of Eve? There is no mention of them, and I wanted to challenge that and write a story where women ask the most crucial and controversial questions.

• My own journey from girlhood to womanhood has been very flawed in some ways and I learned social codes through observation. I was a very lonely teenager; I didn’t have a big sister to tell me about things. I discovered a lot through books. I had to observe people in order to keep up with other people, and that created an awareness of an existential gap between yourself and others. It took me a long time to catch up with the cult of womanhood in Turkey. I just had to be myself.

• I care about mysticism a lot but I find it hard to talk about it. In Turkey things are very black and white but I’m not a believer, I don’t like religions and how they divide people into categories. But I’m interested in secular spirituality – secular acts of faith. When I start writing a book, I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s an act of faith. When you move to a new place, it’s an act of faith. When you fall in love, it’s an act of faith. Faith is important. We need faith. But we need doubt in equal measure because if we have faith but no doubt then we have dogma, and that’s dangerous. We need the dance of faith and doubt. Faith is too important to leave to the religious people.

To read more from Elif, see the February 2017 issue of Writing Magazine

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