Writers on Trial

Maureen Freely in the New York Times Book Review:

Screenhunter_1_16Elif Shafak is a Turkish novelist who has spent much of her life in Europe and the United States. She fills her books with characters who defy all orthodoxy, and in her journalism she lives by the same code, mixing feminism and nuanced political analysis with a deep interest in Ottoman culture. She has been much criticized by literary purists for using words of Arabic and Persian origin that the reformers of the early republic worked so hard to expunge, and for drawing on Sufi traditions that continue to inform popular culture 80 years after those same reformers banned Turkey’s dervish sects. She has a particular genius for depicting backstreet Istanbul, where the myriad cultures of the Ottoman Empire are still in tangled evidence on every family tree…

In February 2005, when Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s most famous novelist, said in passing to a Swiss journalist that “a million Armenians had been killed in these lands, and I am the only one who talks about it,” he was branded a traitor and prosecuted for “denigrating Turkishness.” Shafak must have known that she was risking the same, as she has frequently challenged Turkey’s treatment of its minorities.

More here.