Monday, October 30, 2017

Black Milk: On Writing, Motherhood, and the Harem Within, by Elif Shafak

I've vaguely heard about Elif Shafak before, but she only came to my attention when she did a TED talk that I really liked. I mean, it was a little on the feminist side, but the speaker was both articulate and correct - not to mention cute, so I wondered what she wrote about. So I started with Black Milk. And it was as much feminist as they get, discussing women writers in the context of the author's own challenges as a woman and a mother affected by postpartum depression. Therefore, if you don't like these kinds of books, don't read it.

Personally I liked the writing a lot. I didn't really feel interested in the subject so much, but that's also a plus for the book: if you can make people like reading about something they don't care about, then you are doing it right. I find different viewpoints on life interesting, as well, so all in all I enjoyed reading the stories. Yet, the feminism bit threw me off a little. Shafak identifies a lot not only with being a woman, but being a feminist middle East female writer, and she doesn't let anyone forget it. It is difficult to feel connected with the author when she's constantly reminding you of the differences between you. Even the thumbelinas in the book (thumb sized representations of the facets of her personality) are all female. It is true that you hear a lot more about the feminine side of guys rather than the masculine side of women, but still.

What I thought was a little bit misleading was the description of the book as a memoir. In fact, there is little of the author's actual experiences in the book. Instead, there are short anecdotes of her life, strongly dramatized and fantasized, followed by longer analogies with other female writers and their own stories. The book does present a very personal viewpoint on all it describes, but it reveals the author just through comparison rather than through confession. It does not feel intimate, it feels pretentious, an intellectual treatise on things Shafak claims very personal and emotional.

Bottom line: while I liked it, as something very different from what I read and a well written book by a very imaginative author, I think it would have benefited more from a more personal and less argumentative touch.

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