Book Reviews

How to stay sane in an age of division by Elif Shafak- Need of the hour

The time I read my first Shafak it felt like being hit by this wave of writing and mysticism that washed me over. Gasping and drenched by this wave I was left a new person all over. No matter how poetic it sounds, I have come to believe words hold such kind of power. Since then, her words have spoken to me at a very personal level. With every book that I read of hers, I find a semblance of my thoughts in her writing, something that I have been mulling over for a long and which she has managed to put in perfect words- like a string of pearls in a necklace- each placement ideal. Reading this little book was like having a conversation with a friend about the hiccups we have been facing in these past few months, debating over the scenarios we witnessed through news otherwise, and the state of uncertainty we are surrounded by in-betwixt and between.

This year has been one of turmoil and seen far too much, its facets political, dwelling in diversity, challenging our emotional selves, the social media wave and its capacity to drain us out sometimes, and how amidst this chaos we must strive to find sanity. Shafak titles her chapters Disillusionment and bewilderment, Apathy, Anxiety, Anger, and Information, knowledge, and Wisdom and talks about them pressing on a pinched nerve. What helps to make this book relatable are her anecdotes from her life in Istanbul and London, where she stresses on the insider-outsider aspect of displacement, that it is okay to have multiple belongings subsiding the question of a single identity. She questions about democracy, normalcy, selfishness, and freedom answering them succinctly which catches the reflex action of a reader- nodding their head in approval.

Elif Shafak, through these essays, puts forth her opinion in carefully placed words and writing style which is different from her work of fiction but equally captivating. Even as she talks about the doings of a contemporary society she doesn’t miss out on emphasizing the importance of storytelling and reading. The book is the need of the hour. It might give a voice to your thoughts just as it gave mine.

Something that I found newly interesting was when talking about pessimism and optimism she points out how necessary sometimes pessimism is, it makes us alert, more aware of our surroundings. She quotes Gramsci’s words as conclusive lines to explain that we need the blend of conscious optimism and creative pessimism- “the pessimism of the intellect, the optimism of the will”. Very thought-provoking, don’t you think so?