Elif Shafak

Top 5 Elif Shafak Books You Should Read

Elif Shafak is one of the best Turkish writers of all time.

by Iva Rizova

“Patience does not mean to endure passively. It means to be farsighted enough to trust the end result of a process. What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn.” This is one of the most famous quotes by Elif Shafak. The Turkish writer, born in Strasburg, won the hearts of millions and gained a considerable following.

If you have read even one of her books, you may have noticed that her writing is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, or at least it’s not suitable for all ages. To fully understand and appreciate her creative work, you have to “encounter” it at a specific time in your life. This is why we have created a TOP list of five books by Elif Shafak that are definitely worth checking out.

The Bastard of Istanbul

Elif Shafak

“Cyanide is a colorless substance – potassium salt and hydrocyanic acid. It looks like sugar and dissolves very well in water. Unlike other poisons, it has a strong odor. It smells of almonds. Of bitter almonds. If you decorate a bowl of Ashura with pomegranate seeds and add a drop of cyanide on top, it will be difficult to spot because there are almonds among the numerous products.”

Elif Shafak attracted the attention of literary critics with her first novel, published in 1997, which showcased her talent and true potential. However, The Bastard of Istanbul is the novel that finally puts her on the market. In 2008 she received a nomination for one of the most prestigious British awards for literary work – “Orange.”

A lawsuit has been filed against Shafak because her book is an “insult to the nation” as it talks about the Armenian genocide, which the Turkish government denies. The charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence. But in reality, the lawsuit aroused even more interest in the work due to its “forbidden” nature and her fearless author.

The Forty Rules of Love

The Forty Rules of Love

“We were all created in His image, and yet we were each created differently and unique. No two people are alike. No two hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is tantamount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.”

If The Bastard of Istanbul opens the door for Shafak to the big literary stage, it’s The Forty Rules of Love that makes her genuinely renowned. It’s generally considered to be just another romance novel, but once we delve into it, it becomes easy to see that it’s so much more than that. It is, in fact, a book about love, but it’s also about the journey to oneself and to their partner as all we really have is the present.

The Forty Rules of Love became a bestseller and won many prestigious awards. In 2019, they included it in the BBC‘s list of “100 Novels That Shaped Our World”. The same year it became known that Netflix had acquired the rights to Shafak’s book and may develop it into a TV series.


Elif Shafak Honour

“If you are deprived of your honour, it is as if you are dead. You can no longer walk on the street unless you get used to not taking your eyes off the pavement… Your shoulders will be lowered, and your fists will be clenched, your eyes will be sunk into orbits, your whole being will be a lifeless piece of jelly, shrinking day by day, under the pressure of gossip… you will wither in your own corner like dried fruit. “

Our next pick, published by Elif Shafak, is Honour. It’s a story about the conflict between the patriarchy and the modern world, loyalty and betrayal, pain, loss, and the wretched immigrant life. This book makes no exception when it comes to being critically acclaimed – it has won numerous international awards. On her inspiration to write Honour, the author shares: “I wanted to focus on the notion that we, subconsciously or not, hurt the ones we love the most.”

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

“Prejudices, predictions, and suggestions deprived people of sight kept them under control, and undermined their self-esteem so that they are afraid of everyone and everything.”

The book title itself implies that we are about to witness something extraordinary. Precisely 10 minutes 38 seconds is how long the brain activity continues after death and memories are floating around. 

Elif Shafak’s inspiration for this peculiar creative work came from visiting The Cemetery of the Companionless in Istanbul. There rest the “unwanted” (prostitutes, refugees, alcoholics, drug addicts, people of different sexual orientations, and people who have died of AIDS or have committed suicide), and only a number is written on their tombstones. Shafak’s novel focuses on this particular social group and the power of friendship.

How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division

How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division

“Knowledge requires reading. Books. In-depth analyses. Investigative journalism. Then wisdom connects the mind and the heart, activates emotional intelligence, expands empathy. For that, we need stories and storytelling.”

How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division is a nonfiction book. However, it comes just at the right time – when we are surrounded by chaos, and the journey ahead has disappeared in a thick fog.

The book touches upon some fundamental issues: the lack of tolerance and hatred of anyone different; the problems facing the modern democracy and the attempts to impose dictatorship; the restriction of freedom and the right to choose; and last but not least, the coronavirus, the impact it’s had on our lives and the things we’ve learned from it.

If you’ve started reading one of Elif Shafak’s books, but you’ve felt it’s not to your taste, wait a while and give it another try. It will undoubtedly hit you differently. Or as the writer, herself says: “There is no such thing as sooner or later in life. Everything happens just when it has to happen.”

She’s truly an inspirational woman, not just a terrific writer. People also love her for some great Elif Shafak TED talk videos you can find online. In case you need some food for thought, we advise you to check her out – she has a lot of things to tell you.

Photo: Lucy Ranson for the FT

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