The moment I came to know about my pregnancy, the writer in me panicked.” These words touched my core. 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 goose bumps and every other piece of her work makes me wonder what a beauty she is. Black Milk 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 cosmopolitan, lover of Sufism, and pacifist. In this book 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 the 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 as wanting to become 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 colored 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 drew 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.
Part One of the book is titled as, “Life before marriage”. In the chapter “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 in electronic milk pumps and bottle warmers. She remembers how she asked the salesman to provide her with a paper for writing the “Manifesto of a Single Girl”, and after a few months she had to order a milk pump from the same company. “There are no coincidences in the universe, just signs”, she writes. The second chapter is titled as “In the Beginning there was Tea”. Here she writes about her experiences with the famous Turkish novelist Adalet Agaoglu. This experience changed her views about creating babies and creating books. She writes about how they talked about order, disorder, and both had contrasting opinions. Adalet admitted that she had to make a choice between writing and being a mother and she chose the former.
Shafak also 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. The next chapter is titled as, “A Talented Sister”, in which Shafak writes that Virginia Woolf once talked about the imaginary sister of Shakespeare and named her Judith. Virginia says that even if Judith had 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 would have had to make compromises.
In the chapters that follow Shafak writes about the experiences of established female writers like JK Rowling, Sylvia Plath and Alice Walker. This book has so much to offer to women writers, especially who suffer from the dilemma of whether to pursue writing or motherhood. In one word, it is a masterpiece.