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BLACK MILK by Elif Shafak


On Writing, Motherhood, and the Harem Within

by Elif Shafak translated by Hande Zapsu

Pub Date: May 2nd, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02264-9
Publisher: Viking

Acclaimed Turkish novelist Shafak (The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi, 2010, etc.) examines the conflict she feels between her many identities.

Until the age of 35, writes the author, she defined herself as a writer, cosmopolitan, lover of Sufism, pacifist, vegetarian and woman “in more or less that order…and first and foremost…a teller of tales”—all while hearing a cacophony of competing internal voices. When she learned unexpectedly that she was pregnant, she was simultaneously thrilled and panicked. The “black milk” of the title refers to the conflict she felt between her roles as a writer and mother—her fears that she could not meet the demands of both simultaneously—and nearly year-long bout of postpartum depression she suffered. Her situation was made more stressful by the fact that during her pregnancy, she was charged with public denigration of Turkishness because of her reference to the Turkish-Armenian conflict in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul (2007). She also faced the demanding realities of motherhood while her husband was away, serving a mandatory tour in the military. Shafak has lived much of her life overseas, first with her mother and then as a visiting professor teaching at several U.S. universities. She compares her life to that of her traditional grandmother, whose marriage was arranged, and her mother, an emancipated woman who married for love, divorced and raised her daughter alone. While the author's standpoint is that of a modern Turkish woman, she muses about the lives and work of female writers from diverse backgrounds—George Elliot, Louisa May Alcott, Sylvia Plath, Zelda Fitzgerald, Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan—who faced conflicts similar to her own.

A thoughtful, welcome addition to the works of women the author admires.