Booker Prize author Elif Shafak tells the story of love and war

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NEW DELHI: How to write war stories without taking sides? Elif Shafak says she found her answer in a fig tree, which she personified as her narrator to tell the story of a Turkish woman and a Greek man whose love takes place in a land destroyed by “competing nationalisms” and “competing religions”.

The Turkish-British author’s latest book, “The Island of Missing Trees”, is the story she wanted to write “for a long time” but “never dared to tell”.

Set in Cyprus in the 1960s, when the Mediterranean island was caught in a civil war between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, the 350-page novel revolves around Defne and Kostas whose love beats any chance of finding a ” happy forever ”almost half a century later.

“Cyprus is a beautiful island with wonderful people. It is also an island where there are many untold stories, sorrows and wounds accumulated. The wounds are not healed. Not at all. The past is not. not gone and left behind, the past breathes in the present moment, ”Shafak said in an email interview.

“So it is difficult to deal with such a complex and emotional subject. How to tell the story of a land that has been divided by a border, destroyed by ethnic conflicts and years and years of violence, nationalism competitors and competing religions, how do you tell this story without falling into the trap of nationalism or tribalism yourself? ”asked the author named Booker.

Shafak, 49, who is the author of 17 books, including 11 novels, said she didn’t know how to approach the story until she found the fig tree – which tells the story of the love and war as it is, not as a Turk or a Greek, man or woman, winner or loser.

“The connection with trees, nature and roots gave me a completely different angle, it helped me find an opening, and through that opening I was able to come in. It was only then. that I was able to dare to write this book “, declared the author of” The forty rules of the love “.

Through the fig tree, Shafak reflects on political events of the past, the aftermath of the Cypriot crisis of 1963-64, and also seamlessly mingles with contemporary issues including displacement, mental health and climate change.

“Our persistent and willful ignorance of trees is mind-boggling. Every day we walk past them, not really seeing them. I think we have a lot to learn from trees. And now is a good time to look at them. that.

“The pandemic and the climate crisis are forcing us to rethink, to stop seeing ourselves as the owners of this planet, to stop believing that we are the center of the universe or that we are more superior.”

With so much environmental destruction, social inequalities and financial greed, humans will one day disappear, but the trees will still be there, said the author who has repeatedly angered the Turkish state and has also been a strong advocate for minority rights. as women.

“We need to radically change our habits and restructure our societies in a much more egalitarian way and reconnect with nature in a more humble way. We don’t have much time to do this, and we can only do it together as a ‘humanity,’ he added. said the London-based writer.

The reader may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of issues Shafak manages to address in a single book, but his prowess as a storyteller is such that it feels overwhelming where it is meant to be.

“There are families who have lived through war, displacement, trauma in just a few generations … this is the history of humanity. If it’s not too much for history, if it’s not too much for life, why would it be too much for fiction? This is the reality and I think that as human beings our hearts and minds are large enough to process complex thoughts and empathize at the same time, ”she said.

Whatever objective approach writers may take when writing their stories, it is rare that you can remain oblivious to the grief, sorrows, and traumas of those who have suffered.

Shafak admits to being no exception.

“Authors are not immune to the emotions they deal with in their stories. You feel those emotions in your soul, if you don’t feel them you probably couldn’t write about them. So that affects me. . I cry, I laugh, I keep talking to my characters but more than that, I listen to them. It’s not a rational, logical, composed process. Writing fiction comes from the heart, from the guts. ”

She said she was a “mess” when writing, feeling deeply what her characters are going through.

“The topics I write about are not easy topics, they are quite heavy, but I also hope my books are life affirming. They celebrate humanity, connectedness, diversity, empathy and try to ‘encourage wisdom rather than information, try to embrace the beauty and fragility of the human being,’ Shafak said.

Several of her books, including “The Bastard of Istanbul” (2006), “The Gaze” (2000), and her latest novel “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World” (2019), got her in trouble. with the Turks. government.

Shafak was tried for “insulting Turkishness” because she wrote against the Armenian genocide in Turkey and was ultimately acquitted. She has also been investigated for “obscenity” for addressing topics such as child abuse, trafficking and sexual harassment.

“The Island of Missing Trees” was released on September 5 of this year.

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