Sense and Sensibility - A Conversation Beyond Borders


For the last panel of the day, Viviane Reding talks to author Elif Shafak. "Sometimes you meet a person and it's magic", Reding describes her first encounter with Elif a few days ago when she started reading her books. Reding is fascinated by the female characters of Elif's novels which are very diverse and full of life.

Elif says the creation of these strong female characters is related to her background. When her mother and father married, her mother dropped out of university. Her parents got divorced and her mother came back to Turkey, with no money, no job and no education. Usually, parents would immediately marry her off. However, Elif's eastern grandmother decided that her mother should gain independency first and go back to university. Elif's grandmother took care of Elif in the meantime. That kind of solidarity is what we need and which is often missing today.

Elif also says that patriarchy is not just a black and white system. It is more complex and important to realize that women actively take part in patriarchy.

Reding explains that a lot of ethnicities come together in Elif's books, Greeks, Romans, Turks. And she cites how the conception of time varies in different cultures: Armenians perceive time as a cycle, while Turks think time stops at a precise point. Turkey has a culture of amnesia, Elif states. However, she feels that woman are the bearers of memory, they are great storytellers and share their knowledge widely. This is an important role because it's essential to remember mistakes of the past, even if it's painful.

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Reding asks Elif about the freedom of speech in Turkey. The author had been taken to court because of one of her books in 2006. Elif says, she wishes she could say that there has been a lot of progress, but freedom of speech and media is still limited. It had been quite surreal for her when her lawyer had to defend a fictional Armenian character of her book.

Writing political commentary about Turkey is quite difficult. Elif describes that the Turkish society is divided into different cultural ghettos. The gap between government supporters and critics has become so wide that nobody wants to bridge it anymore. However, she wants to remain an individual and express her perspective. It is very difficult especially for women. "I always try to be compassionate, but also critical."

Reding marks, that Elif has given the solution herself which is the sisterhood of women. As a final note, Reding again recommends to read Elif's books and encounter their magic.

Mentioned in this live blog

Elif quadr
Elif Shafak
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Viviane Reding

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