Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak are the international star names, but all of these writers bring a distinctive lightness of heart to bear on a very heavy history
I am often asked what defines Turkish literature. Is it Orhan Pamuk’s depictions of a society caught between modernity and traditionalism? Or Elif Shafak’s novels, which highlight the difficulty of being a woman in Turkey? Does our literature have to be political in order to be considered “Turkish”?
If, as Abraham Verghese says in his brilliant Cutting for Stone, “geography is destiny”, then I think it does. In my latest novel, At the Breakfast Table, a family gathering to celebrate the matriarch’s 100th birthday soon exposes the family’s – and Turkey’s – fraught history. The book examines the complications of family life alongside the despotism, violence and atrocities that litter our history and the social amnesia that now surrounds us. In this way, I see my writing as Turkish – these are the issues that we breathe every day; they are buried in the soil under our feet. Yet there is also a balance: the greatest Turkish literature discusses serious issues, but will also lighten the heart and put a smile on your face.