Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak was born in France, Strasbourg, in 1971. She spent her teenage years in Spain, before returning to Turkey.

Her first novel, Pinhan (The Sufi) (8th edition), which she published at age 27, was awarded the Rumi Prize, which is given to the best work in mystical/transcendental literature. The novel tells the story of a hermaphrodite mystic – a little known but revered tradition, inside the Sufi orders. The body with both sexual organs is astonishingly linked to the path of the dialectics of life in the outer order. As in Shafak's other works, Pinhan explores and challenges the question of identity at the nexus of physical and metaphysical definitions.

Her second novel, The Mirrors of the City (7th edition), is about the lives of money changers expelled from Spain, and especially, about one particular young Sephardic Jew – gifted with wit, fury and cynicism – who moves to 17th century Ottoman Empire. By bringing together Jewish and Islamic characters in Istanbul, the novel opens up questions on estrangement and deterritorialization.

Titled Mahrem (The Gaze) (8th edition), her third novel is about the interventionist gaze of the Muslim/Jalal God, of the society, as well as of the male lover. The novel traces the steps of the runaway of the female body that must search for its elusive autonomy while being encroached upon by the gazes of others. With an intricate plot and language, the novel travels from Siberia in 17th century to France in 19th century and the story finds its links back to the life of a bulimic woman and to her childhood and sexual abuse in 1980s Turkey, Istanbul. Reprinted many times, Mahrem received the Turkish Novel Award.

Elif Shafak published her fourth novel, The Flea Palace (9th edition), a humorously narrated story of an apartment building where all the characters and stories are interlaced to develop the theme of "the seen and the unseen degradation" – moral, physical, social as well as cultural – in the heart of the ageing city of Istanbul. In three months time, the book sold over 15,000 copies and for more than nine weeks it was a national best seller.The novel has been translated into English by Muge Gocek, and was published by Marion Boyars in the UK and the USA in Spring 2004.

Elif Shafak completed her fifth novel in English. Entitled The Saint of Incipient Insanities, it was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in fall 2004.

Elif Shafak is also a social scientist, and graduated in International Relations at Middle East Technical University. She holds MSc degree in Gender and Women Studies, and received her PhD from the Department of Political Science. Elif Shafak's academic background has been nurtured by a critical, interdisciplinary and gender-conscious rereading of the literature on the Middle-East & West, Islam & modernity. Shafak's MS thesis on Islam, Women and Mysticism, titled 'The Deconstruction of Femininity Along the Cyclical Understanding of Heterodox Dervishes in Islam' was praised by the Social Scientists' Institute. Shafak has taught 'Ottoman History From the Margins', 'Turkey & Cultural Identities' and 'Women and Writing' in Istanbul Bilgi University. She is also a Visiting Scholar in Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. She teaches courses on Women & Writing and Queer in the Middle East. Shafak is currently writing for various newspapers in Turkey. She contests the dominant and manipulative discourse of religious orthodoxy and nationalist ideologies. The dominance of established gender patterns and roles has been a central theme in her writings, fiction and non-fiction alike.

Read a profile of Elif Shafak in the Independent>


Pinhan (1998)
The Mirrors of the City
The Gaze

The Flea Palace