ELIF SHAFAK'S SEVEN WONDERS

The Turkish novelist chooses seven wonders—from Scotland to Arizona 

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, March/April 2013

Like her home city, the career of Turkey’s leading female author and political commentator straddles continents. Elif Shafak has lived in the West and the East and she writes in both English and Turkish. The settings of her books, including the bestselling "Forty Rules of Love", range around the globe and across the centuries. Her favourite haunts are similarly eclectic

CITY Istanbul
I grew up in a nomadic way and although my parents were Turkish, we had never lived in Istanbul. I chose to move there when I was in my early 20s; it seemed to be teeming with untold stories, a city of forgettings—and it is a writer’s job to remember. To me, Istanbul is about inspiration, conflict and colours. But it can be suffocating, and that’s when I come back to London, which for me symbolises freedom, intellectual depth and harmony. I love the commute and feeling connected to both places.

VIEW The Arizona desert
This is an easy one for me: the Arizona desert, particularly at dawn and sunset is breathtaking. I am a big-city person, but, when I lived in Tucson, close to the border with Mexico, I learnt to appreciate nature. Being there taught me that desert is not emptiness, but is full of life; insects, birds, especially wonderful owls, animals and spirituality. Of course the Grand Canyon is spectacular, but it’s the desert that I love most.

BUILDING New York Public Library
I am always happy next to books and I’ve been very happy in the New York library. It’s a beautiful building; you get inside and it feels as if you can settle down and live there. It has a sense of great stability and continuity and yet an openness to change and novelty. In my country, we think that in order to modernise we have to get rid of the old, but in an old building like this you find old and new coexisting and that’s a wonderful combination.

WORK OF ART Goya’s black paintings
My mother was a diplomat and so we lived in many places as I was growing up. It was in the Museo del Prado in Madrid that I first got to know Goya, and his work had a big impact on me. I especially like the black paintings; I like their darkness, their evocation of the Gothic, their intelligence, but also the amazing compassion that I see in them. As an artist, Goya went through a number of different stages and styles, but overall his compassion and the critical eye are very dear to me. How can we be critical as a society without compassion; how can we be compassionate without criticising?

HOTEL Malmaison, Oxford
This hotel was once a prison, and you can see its past in its structure: each cell has been turned into a hotel room. I stayed here when I gave a TED talk a few years ago. One night I just sat in the courtyard, listening to what the building was telling me. It had a positive energy rather than gloomy heritage. It made me think about history, about the people who had stayed here involuntarily and their stories. 

BEACH Olympos, Turkey
I like rainy beaches. I am not a Mediterranean person in spirit; I don’t like the sun much. When my husband and I went to the Maldives for the wedding of a friend, I was the most miserable person on the island. The kind of beaches that you come across on calendars and postcards, I just get depressed in such places. I like smoky grey skies, rainy beaches, that kind—maybe that’s why I feel very comfortable in England. That said, I like Olympos beach in Turkey; it has a sweet charm that I don’t see in many other beaches. There are treehouses, lots of backpackers, peacocks, a calmness and tranquillity that comes naturally and works well.

JOURNEY The Highlands by bus
I’ve always seen writing as a journey: telling a story has to move me as a writer, take me away from the place I’m in, as indeed does reading a book. But if I had to choose a physical journey it would be the one I took with my family and a bunch of crazy friends from Istanbul, through the Scottish Highlands three years ago. We spent New Year in the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh and then hired a big bus and travelled north, into the cold. Whenever we saw a little bar, we stopped for a warming whisky and to talk to people, who were so welcoming and lovely – in contrast to the weather outside. The Scottish people are proud of their history and we visited graveyards and castles and monuments, toasted writers, philosophers and poets, and in that way, fortified by the whisky, we got to know and love the Highlands.

Interview by Samantha Weinberg

"Honour" (Penguin) is out now

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