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Arts & Culture

Can Stories Overcome Identity Politics?

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode Identities.

About Elif Shafak's TEDTalk

Novelist Elif Shafak describes how fiction has allowed her to explore many different lives, to jump over cultural walls, and how it may have the power to overcome identity politics.

About Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak is the most-read female author in Turkey, where she is known both for her descriptions of Istanbul's backstreets and her global upbringing. Her writing is at once rooted in her feminist perspective and her deep knowledge of Sufism and Ottoman culture. Shafak creates a third way to understand Turkey's intricate history.

We always talk about identity, we fight for identity, sometimes we kill for identity. But why is that? Why can't we talk about belongings? Multiple belongings.

Her international sensibilities have been shaped by a life spent in a diverse range of cities, including Ankara, Cologne, Madrid, Amman and Boston. She has written novels in Turkish — such as her first work, Pinhan ("The Sufi") — as well as in English, including her most recent novel, The Forty Rules of Love, in which two parallel narratives take the reader from contemporary Boston to thirteenth-century Konya, where the Sufi poet Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the whirling dervish known as Shams.

Her unconventional political views have not gone without controversy. When she published her novel, The Bastard of Istanbul — about two family histories, one Turkish, the other Armenian — she faced charges for "insulting Turkishness." The case was later dismissed. Shafak also writes lyrics for Turkish rock bands.

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