Shafak, Elif 1971–

views updated

Shafak, Elif 1971–

PERSONAL: Born 1971, in Strasbourg, France. Education: Middle East Technical University, M.Sc., Ph.D.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Marly Rusoff & Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 524, Bronxville, NY 10708.

CAREER: Writer, social scientist, and educator. Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA, visiting fellow, 2002–03; University of Michigan, visiting scholar in women's studies, 2003–04.

AWARDS, HONORS: Mevlana prize, 1998, and Rumi prize, both for Pinhan—The Sufi; Turkish novel award, 2000, for Mahrem.


Sehrin aynalari, Iletisim (Istanbul, Turkey), 1999.

Bit palas (novel), Metis Yayinlari (Istanbul, Turkey), 2002, translated by Müge Göçek as The Flea Palace, Marion (New York, NY), 2004.

The Saint of Incipient Insanities (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2005.

The Gaze (novel), Marion Boyars (London, England), 2006.

Also author of novels Pinhan—The Sufi, c. 1998; The Mirrors of the City; and Mahrem (title means "Hide-and-Seek").

SIDELIGHTS: Elif Shafak is a novelist of Turkish descent whose works have raised the indignation of some segments of Turkish society. While modern Turkey seeks to be a secular society, Shafak's novels recall the country's older, more Islamic culture. "In Turkey, my fiction has been, from time to time, targeted by some rigidly Kemalist intellectuals who have accused me of betraying the nationalist project," the author commented in Meridians.

In The Mirrors of the City, the author draws on her time living in Spain as a young girl to tell the story of people in seventeenth-century Spain who converted to Islam. Their conversion later led to being driven from Spain to live within the Ottoman Empire. Mahrem—the title means "Hide-and-Seek"—is a metaphysical novel about "the sacred, and the female body that must search for its elusive autonomy while being encroached upon by the Gaze—of a masculine God, of society, of the lover," according to a contributor to Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. The story covers two centuries, ending with the life of a bulimic woman who suffered sexual abuse in Istanbul as a child. Shafak's novel The Flea Palace was a bestseller in Turkey and focuses on the intertwining lives of people living in an apartment building. The novel's theme, according to the Meridians contributor, is "the seen and the unseen degradation—moral, physical, social as well as cultural—in the heart of the aging city of Istanbul."

The Saint of Incipient Insanities is the author's first novel written in English. It follows three foreign students who have come to the United States: political science student Omer, whose heritage is in the Islamic faith; Spanish dental student Piyu, who is Catholic; and Abed, a Moroccan student interested in biotechnology who is a devout Muslim. "Despite their differences in culture and language, the three men's outsider status … binds them together while each struggles to find where he resides in spirit," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Michael Spinella, writing in Booklist, commented that the author "presents a masterful command of language, which she uses cleverly, humorously, and engagingly." Diane Anderson-Minshall, writing in Curve, called the book a "heartbreaking tale … that centers around culture, exile, and belonging." A contributor to the Economist wrote that the author "has woven a tragi-comic tapestry of quirky and lovable twenty-somethings struggling to find themselves in America."



Booklist, September 15, 2004, Michael Spinella, review of The Saint of Incipient Insanities, p. 209.

Curve, December, 2004, Diane Anderson-Minshall, review of The Saint of Incipient Insanities, p. 52.

Economist, August 14, 2004, review of The Saint of Incipient Insanities, p. 75.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2004, review of The Saint of Incipient Insanities, p. 773.

Library Journal, October 15, 2004, Edward B. St. John, review of The Saint of Incipient Insanities, p. 56.

Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, spring, 2004, "Migrations: A Meridians Interview with Elif Shafak," p. 55.

Middle East Journal, autumn, 2004, review of The Saint of Incipient Insanities, p. 706; winter, 2005, Sara Hahn, review of The Saint of Incipient Insanities, p. 170.

Publishers Weekly, September 13, 2004, review of The Saint of Incipient Insanities, p. 56.


Marion Boyars Publishers Web site, (September 14, 2005).