Born in Strasbourg, France, Elif Shafak moved to Turkey in the 1970s. She was raised by a single mother, as her parents had separated when she was very young, and this was quite unusual for a middle class Muslim neighbourhood in Ankarra at that time.
Elif feels, in many ways, that she is a creation of two different kinds of women: her mother, who was very westernised, very modern, very feminist, very secular, urban and rational; and her maternal grandmother, who was was very superstitious, very irrational and very Eastern. What struck Elif most about these two women was their solidarity and their support of each other.
Elif’s mother had fallen in love and followed her father to France where he could complete his PhD in Philosophy. When she returned to Turkey as a divorcee, she was 19 years old, without a diploma, job nor money.
Normally, in a situation like that in Turkey, a woman is married off immediately, as sadly such women are not considered to be high on the ladder of marital prospects. One must be married quickly to avoid being alone as a single woman. But it was Elif’s maternal grandmother; her irrational, Eastern, less educated grandmother who said ‘Wait a minute; she is not going to be married yet; she is going to go back to university and I’m going to take care of my granddaughter’.
So that’s what happened – Elif’s mother graduated with a very good degree and became a diplomat. Afterwards, Elif and her mother travelled a lot; spending part of her childhood in Madrid, Spain; in Amman, Jordan; in Cologne, Germany; and then back to Istanbul. Later on in her life, Elif lived in Michigan, Boston, Arizona, London and then returned once again to Istanbul.
For Elif, life has always been quite nomadic in many ways. Over time, she started seeing fiction and stories as the only glue that kept it together – the only continuity in her life. She saw herself first and foremost as a story teller and this was the way she could relate to the world – through words and creativity.
Elif’s extraordinary philosophical lecture highlighted the connection between wealth and creativity, and the strong bond that she saw between the two concepts:
“A concept for me which I believe is important, which I believe increases one’s wealth (inner and also outer) is what I call chutzpah – for me, it means to be daring, to have the guts to be different and make mistakes. Chutzpah provides the confidence to be different or follow a different path, even when it seems wrong to most.”