The 2021 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature organized a virtual dialogue session via the Internet with the Turkish-British writer Elif Shafak to discuss her most recent work “How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division”, which is classified as one of the works highlighting real incidents, and her last fictional narrative “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World.”
Being fully occupied with the scientific finding that man’s brain still works for 10 minutes after death, Shafak wondered about what takes place within it during this very 10 minutes. “In case a part of it is responsible for one’s long-term memory, what could the dead recall?” she asked. For this, she allowed her narrative’s main character, Laila, to pass away in the very first page of the narrative to travel into her mind so that she could identify her stories and country, allowing each chapter to cover one single minute of this 10-minute journey.
As for her book “How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division”, she tries to express the homeless and the poor whose cries are not heard. In Istanbul, Shafak searched for the graves of the outcast, the refugees and the homeless where she found nothing but numbers which she took and turned into characters, with each number materializing a story or a narrative that is worthy of recounting.
Shafak stressed that her works are concerned with showing respect for diversity and difference, their relation to the development of democracy and how this affects the life of the working class and minorities in societies, aiming thereby to project how wonderful, positive and useful diversity is and that there is a direct connection between the acceptance of diversity and making progress in belief in democracy. Shafak gave an example of herself; she has been educated by two women of different cultural backgrounds. The first is her grandmother whom Shafak and her mother left Paris to live with in Turkey, maintaining thereby that she acquired the love of the written culture from her mother, whereas her grandmother taught her how to love all cultures. “I fully realized that wisdom is not the product of learning in schools only and that not all matters are rational or logical, since there are some matters that are beyond explanation,” said Shafak.
Meanwhile, the British-Turkish author confessed that she is of multiple identities, for she belonged to the culture of Istanbul and, at the same time, to the culture of the Balkan. Moreover, “I belonged to the wider circle of culture, namely, the Middle East culture, let alone the fact that I am a western woman in Britain,” Shafak added. Believing that the main problem stems from the fact that the society mostly prevents us from celebrating our multiple identities, Shafak stated, “All what we have to do is to correctly express ourselves.”
Replying to the question on how a person could be a writer, she said, “You have to be a very good reader and a good listener to what people say. You should then read everything about the idea or the topic you would write on after which you would come to a point at which you would stop reading and start writing. In doing so, you have to choose one of two ways: either the pre-designation of the narrative and its incidents or writing without knowing about the incidents to happen later in the next chapter.”
Shafak finally affirmed that life is a journey of continual learning, stressing that we should say, “We don’t know”, that we should not hasten to pass judgments on matters and others, and that we have to always search for dignity and equality during our life journey.