Elif Shafak, one of the most celebrated female Turkish writers in her book “Black Milk”, has weaved magic with words. Everyone loves her “Forty Rules of Love” but few talk about her other works which I personally find more enlightening and relatable. Her novel “Honor” gave me goosebumps and every other piece of her work makes me wonder what a beauty she is.
“The moment I came to know about my pregnancy, the writer in me Panicked,” these lines touched my core.
Black Milk: On Motherhood & Writing was written by Shafak when she was facing postpartum depression and how she feared she might lose the writer within her after motherhood. She faced anxiety, guilt, and writer’s block after giving birth to her first child.
Shafak likes to be called as lover, cosmopolitan, lover of Sufism and pacifist. In this journey, she writes about the constant bickering of the women who live inside her. They are “Miss Highbrowed cynic” who wants her to read a lot, Dame Dervesh who represents her Sufi part and Mama Rice pudding who wants her to embrace motherhood.
In opening part of the book “Lucky Dishwasher”, Shafak writes about her encounter with her mother when she told her about her marriage. The chapter gives us an account of her marriage with her husband Eyup and how contrasting their personalities are. She writes about how surprising it was for her readers to know about her marriage and how she was misquoted of becoming a stepmother someday. There is one sentence in this chapter that I completely relate to, “I had been an introverted child to the point of communicating with coloured crayons and apologizing to objects when I bumped into them.”
She recounts her journey as a novelist and how motherhood affected her writing. While being in postpartum depression, she talked to other women about their experiences and draws her own conclusions. “Nevertheless, a woman does not become a mother the very minute she gives birth. It is a learning process, and for some, it simply takes longer than for others,” she writes.
The part one of the book is titled as, “Life before marriage”. It consists of chapters titled “signs”. In “signs”, Shafak writes about her encounter with a pregnant woman and how it led to a coincidence. She recounts her experience of meeting a salesman who ran a company that dealt with electronic milk pumps and bottle warmers. She remembers how she asked the salesman to provide her with paper for writing the “Manifesto of single girl”, and after few months she had to order milk pump from the same company whose owner provided her with paper to write down that piece. “There are no coincidences in universe just signs,” she writes.
The second chapter is titled as “In the Beginning there was tea”. She writes about her experiences with famous Turkish novelist Adalet Agaoglu. This experience changed her vies about creating babies and creating books. She writes about how they talked about order, disorder and both had contrasting opinions. Adalet admits that she had to make a choice between writing and being a mother and she chose former. Shafak in this chapter writes about Anaïs Nin who had her own publishing rules. She used to print her own books and admitted that it taught her to be more succinct and less wordy.
Next chapter is titled as, “A Talented Sister”. Shafak writes that Virginia Woolf once talked about imaginary sister of Shakespeare and named her Judith. Virginia says that even if Judith would have been passionate and gifted like Shakespeare, she would not have achieved the level of success that her brother did, because at some point of her life she had to make compromises.
In the chapters that follow, she writes about the experiences of established female writers like J.K Rowling, Sylvia Plath and Alice Walker.
This book has so much on offer to women writers, especially who suffer from a dilemma whether to pursue writing or motherhood. In one word, it is a masterpiece.
Black Milk: On Motherhood & Writing by Elif Shafak
Genre: Biography & Autobiography
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Year of Publication: 2007
ISBN: 9780241966259, 0241966256
Price: ₹499 / $6.88
Elif Shafak is one of Turkey’s leading novelists. She has been translated into more than thirty languages and sold over 600,000 copies of The Forty Rules of Love.
She is the recipient of several prestigious international honours and awards, including a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
She has been longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the IMPAC Dublin Award and won the Maria Grazia Cutuli Award.