Elif Shafak (spelled Şafak in Turkish) was born in 1971 in Strasbourg, France. She is an award-winning novelist and the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into more than twenty five languages.
Throughout her life, Shafak has lived in various cities including Madrid, Spain; Ankara, Turkey; Cologne, Germany; Amman, Jordan; Boston, Massachusetts; Michigan; and Arizona. 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.
Shafak has published nine books, seven of which are novels. She writes fiction in both Turkish and English. Her latest novel, THE FORTY RULES OF LOVE is a Viking USA January 2010 title. In Turkey, it became the best-selling novel in a decade, selling half a million copies in a few months.
The novel is a modern love story between a Jewish-American housewife and a modern Sufi living in Amsterdam. Their unusual romance is interwoven with the remarkable spiritual bond between Rumi and Shams of Tabriz.
Shafak literary debut was a story, Kem Gözlere Anadolu, published in 1994. Her first novel, Pinhan (The Sufi), was awarded the Rumi Prize in 1998, 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. Shafak greatly increased her readership with her novel, Mahrem (The Gaze), which earned her the Union of Turkish Writers Prize in 2000.
Her next novel, Bit Palas (The Flea Palace), has been a bestseller in Turkey. The setting is a stately residence in Istanbul built by Russian noble émigré Pavel Antipov for his wife Agripina at the end of the Tsarist reign, now sadly dilapidated, flea-infested, and home to ten families. Shafak uses the narrative structure of A Thousand and One Nights to construct a story-within-a-story narrative.The book was followed by Med-Cezir, a non-fiction book of essays on gender, sexuality, mental ghettoes, and literature.
Shafak's first novel written in English, The Saint of Incipient Insanities, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her second novel written in English is The Bastard of Istanbul was the bestselling book of 2006 in Turkey. The novel is about two families, one Armenian and one Turkish and their stories are told through the perspective of women. The novel brought Shafak under prosecution by the Turkish government. The charges were ultimately dismissed.
Following the birth of her daughter in 2006, she suffered from postpartum depression for more than ten months, a period she addressed in her first autobiographical book, Black Milk, which combines fiction and non-fiction genres.
In addition to writing fiction, Shafak is also a political scientist and assistant professor, having graduated from the program in International Relations at Middle East Technical University in Turkey. She holds a Masters degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the same university. Focusing mainly in contemporary Western political thought with a supplementary interest in Middle Eastern studies, Shafak’s scholarship has been nurtured by an interdisciplinary and gender-conscious re-reading of the literature on the Middle East and West, Islam, and modernity. Her master’s thesis on Islam, women, and mysticism received an award from the Social Scientists Institute.
Shafak has taught at various universities around the world, including İstanbul Bilgi University, the University of Michigan, the University of Arizona, and Istanbul Bahcesehir University. Her courses have explored the intersections between Turkish history, women’s studies, and literature, including classes such as “Ottoman History from the Margins,” “Turkey and Cultural Identities, “Women and Writing,” “Sexualities and Gender in the Muslim World,” “Exile, Literature, and Imagination,” and “The Politics of Memory.”
Shafak continues to write for various daily and monthly publications in Turkey. She has also contributed to various papers in Europe and the United States including The Guardian, Le Monde, Berliner Zeitung, Dutch Handelsbladt, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Time Magazine, and has been featured in the US on National Public Radio.
Shafak also writes song lyrics for well-known rock musicians in her country.
She lives in Istanbul with her husband and two children.
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