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Black Milk: On Writing, Motherhood, and the Harem Withinby Elif Shafak
Synopses & Reviews
An acclaimed Turkish novelist's personal account of balancing a writer's life with a mother's life.
After the birth of her first child in 2006, Turkish writer Elif Shafek suffered from postpartum depression that triggered a profound personal crisis. Infused with guilt, anxiety, and bewilderment about whether she could ever be a good mother, Shafak stopped writing and lost her faith in words altogether. In this elegantly written memoir, she retraces her journey from free-spirited, nomadic artist to dedicated by emotionally wrought mother. Identifying a constantly bickering harem of women who live inside of her, each with her own characteristics-the cynical intellectual, the goal-oriented go-getter, the practical-rational, the spiritual, the maternal, and the lustful-she craves harmony, or at least a unifying identity. As she intersperses her own experience with the lives of prominent authors such as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, Ayn Rand, and Zelda Fitzgerald, Shafak looks for a solution to the inherent conflict between artistic creation and responsible parenting.
With searing emotional honesty and an incisive examination of cultural mores within patriarchal societies, Shafak has rendered an important work about literature, motherhood, and spiritual well-being.
"Feeling conflicted about embarking on motherhood, Turkish novelist Shafak (The Forty Rules of Love) chronicles the cruel, crazy trajectory that took her from feminist single novelist to married nursing mother of two. An accomplished writer by her mid-30s, Shafak faced the eternal dilemma of most enlightened women: can she pursue her cherished work, be true to herself, and also be a selfless caregiver to children? An interview with a legendary Turkish novelist, Adalet Agaoglu, challenged Shafak to face her irresolution, resulting in a virtual civil war amid the discordant voices in her own conscience — the pint-sized Thumbelinas, she calls them, her own 'mini harem' — which each try to dictate literally what she ought to do: e.g., Little Miss Practical organizes the hiring of her nanny, secretary, and assistant; Dame Dervish attends to her spiritual self; Miss Ambitious Chekhovian tells her to forget about babies, write better novels, and develop her skill; while Miss Highbrowed Cynic warns her that, having children or not, she will always regret the path she didn't take. Shafak gets the modern woman's despair, and especially enlightening are her renderings of the lives of (mostly English-language) women writers she admires: Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, George Eliot, Zelda Fitzgerald. Shafak's stint as a resident at Mount Holyoke College and elsewhere has transformed her into a truly Western feminist voice within a region of engrained patriarchy: she is clear-eyed, savvy, unrepentant. (May)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A thoughtful and incisive meditation on literature, motherhood, and spiritual wellbeing from Turkey's leading female author
After the birth of her first child, Elif Shafak experienced a profound personal crisis. Plagued by guilt, anxiety, and bewilderment about her new maternal role, the acclaimed novelist stopped writing for the first time in her life. As she plummeted into post-partum depression, Shafak looked to the experiences of other prominent female writers—including Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, and Alice Walker—for help navigating the conflict between motherhood and artistic creation in a male-dominated society. Searingly honest, eloquent, and unexpectedly humorous, Black Milk will be widely embraced by writers, academics, and anyone who has undergone the identity crisis engendered by being a mother.
About the Author
Elif Shafak was born in France in 1971 and now divides her time between London and Istanbul. Her books have been translated into more than thirty languages. Her novels include The Bastard of Istanbul and The Forty Rules of Love. Her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, and she has also been featured on NPR. Visit elifshafak.com
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