Elif Shafak was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1971. She is an award-winning novelist and the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages.
Shafak spent her teenage years in Madrid, Spain before returning to her native Turkey. Throughout her life she has lived in numerous cities and states, including Ankara, Turkey, Cologne, Germany; Amman, Jordan; and Boston, Michigan, and Arizona. She has at the same time been deeply attached 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 in both Turkish and English. Her most recent novel, THE FORTY RULES OF LOVE will be released by Viking in the USA in February 2010. Selling more than 150 000 copies in a month it instantly became number one best-seller in Turkey. The novel narrates a modern love story between a Jewish-American housewife and a modern Sufi living in Amsterdam. Their unusual story is told against the remarkable spiritual bond between Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. Sufism has always played an important role in Shafak’s writing but it was in this book that she dealt with the subject head-on.
Þafak debuted in literature with her 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, Þehrin Aynalarý (Mirrors of the City), brings together Jewish and Islamic mysticism against a historical setting in the 17th century Mediterranean. Þafak 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.
Þafak´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 (a literal Turkish translation of the title would be "The Father and the Bastard"), which was the bestselling book of 2006 in Turkey. The novel brought Þafak under prosecution by the Turkish government for "insulting Turkishness" under Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code. The charges were ultimately dismissed.
Following the birth of her daughter in 2006 she suffered from post-natal 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. She holds a Masters degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science. 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 Ýstanbul 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 recently been featured in the US on National Public Radio.
BOOKS BY ELIF SHAFAK
The Bastard of Istanbul: The story of four generations of women where the secrets and stories of Turkish women converge with Armenian women. This novel is highly critical of the nationalist and sexist layers of Turkish society. (written first in English, published by Viking/Penguin)
The Saint of Incipient Insanities: Multicultural, the story of Turkish, Moroccan, Spanish grad students in Boston, a book on non-belonging, bulimia and cultural clashes (written first in English, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
The Flea Palace: An urban saga. The story of an apartment building in Istanbul that was built by White Russians escaping from the Bolshevik revolution. (translated into English, published by Marion Boyars)
The Gaze: A novel on surveillance and the equally confining gaze of God and society. On sexual abuse. Won the Best Novel Award in Turkey in 2001. (translated into English, published by Marion Boyars)
NOT YET IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION
Mirrors of the City: A historical novel that takes place in 17th century. On Sephardic Jews
Pinhan — The Sufi: Hermaphrodite Mystic (won Mevlana Prize for best work in mystical and transcendental literature.)