Nine Lunar Months of Birth – Spatial Mobility as Intertextual Mestizaian Expression in Shafak's Honor

My Lecture in Leed Gender Conference 

In this presentation, I would like to discuss Elif Shafak's books through Gloria Anzaldúa's important article "The New Mastisa", focusing on one book by Elif Shafak that will be a case study: Honor (2012). In her books, Elif Shafak challenges the binary-linear journey of the patriarchal hegemonic figure and presents a journey that creates a new, hybrid, mystical figure, as I will present, which contains various spaces without decisive and restrictive definitions.

I would like to claim that the main protagonists of Elif Shafak books live in the border areas, live in all cultures and blend into many worlds, and maintains a dialogue between spaces that are seemingly dichotomous.

Elif Shafak is a novelist, essayist, academic, public speaker, women's rights activist. She tells herself that immigration, and displacement play a critical role in her personal history: Shafak is a modern woman born in Germany, raised and studied in Spain and Amman, and divides her life between London and Turkey.

Her books deal with cross-cultural conflicts like prohibitions and taboos against freedom and free choice.

“Honor” follows the destinies of twin sisters born in a Kurdish village. While Jamila stays to become a midwife, Pembe follows her Turkish husband, Adem, to London, where they hope to make new lives for themselves and their children.
In London, they face a choice: stay loyal to the old traditions or try their best to fit in. After Adem abandons his family, Iskender, the eldest son, must step in and become the one who will not let any shame come to the family name. And when Pembe begins a chaste affair with a man named Elias, Iskender will discover that you could love someone with all your heart and yet be ready to hurt him.

I will present the way in which nine spaces are formed in which the woman figure in Elif Shafak's book finds herself as the "New Mastissa." Nine spaces, like those nine birth moons – brewing, developing, growing, coming out and being born into the New World, but also returning to the same places with new insights.

The first space is the circular space:

A woman leaving home is a blatant violation of normal female conduct, because the journey allows a woman a critical perspective, a transformation of identity. The female body moves from one point to another and returns to the point of departure, but she back more contained, complete and varied. the character contains, understands and is more complete about herself and her identity.

In Honor, Pemba wants to get out of the small village next to the Euphrates River and see the world. She exposed to the world; not sure she likes what she sees. She eventually returns to her native village near the Euphrates River to the same place where Jamila used to live and lives a quiet life.

Jamila, compared to her twin Pemba, does not understand the desire to leave, she sees the "outside" as something threatening. But Jamila goes out because she wants to warn her sister Pemba, so her journey is linear and non-circular, she "disappears" from the textual space because she can't contain, understand, and form a dialogue between spaces like the New Mastisa. 

The second space, the urban space.

The big city and the urbanization process play an important role in gender discourse. The village is distinguished as a barbaric, tribal, local area in which there is a mental closeness, while the city is characterized by civilization, state, nationalism and modernity in which relations of reason exist.

The main character, Pemba, leaves her rural and small space on a journey to the big city: leaves the small village near the Euphrates River to London and returns.

The circular and physical motions of the characters in the geographical space allows the female character to go out of her familiar world into an unknown world, look at it, study, decompose and reassemble the parts, and return again to the familiar but different, containing world, allowing dialogue between All parts; she returns to the space where mental closeness exists, from a phallocentric urban place to a rural, emotional space.

Pemba compares Istanbul to London as two different types of sweets:

Istanbul … I put the word on my tongue and sucked it slowly, eagerly, as if it were a lollipop. If London was candy, it would have been a butter-flavored toffee candy – rich, concentrated and traditional. Istanbul, on the other hand, was a tire of black and viscous cherries – a mixture of conflicting flavors that make sour and sweet sour (ibid, p. 84).

The third space is the memory space.

The journey of Pemba and Jamila is reflected in the memories of Esme, Pemba's daughter, and the memories of the other characters in the book.

The geographical space divides the lives of the main female characters in Elif Shafak's book into two spaces: the present and the past. The past is also divided into two spaces – the distant past, which is usually deals with the domestic space and the immediate past, which is usually living in the urban space.

The book "Honor" is complicated in terms of the motifs between these spaces of the past – near and far and the present. It is composed because each chapter deals with a different memory space, and each chapter is told from the perspective of different character. The book is narrated as bursts of memory; thus, the chapters move around the characters' memory spaces in a polyphonic weave.

The fourth space is the language space

Learning a new language is an analog for learning and acquainting with a new culture, because if a language defines identity and new languages ​​can be learned, then different identities can also be learned and even dialogue created. Language is not a cultural or identity barrier, but a bridge and dialogue can contain additional identities and cultures, just as Gloria Anzaldua suggested in the New Mastisa.

The language space allows the main female characters to move freely in the geographical spaces.

Pemba is learning to speak English, as she leaves for London. She born into the Turkish language and quickly learn a new language – English, an international language. Iskandar testifies that his mother, Pemba, had a hard time, but as he says, she had a hard time in any language

The fifth space is the symbolic space.

The symbol is something that represents places, or implies an idea, belief, action or being. The symbolism of "Honor" is expressed in the title of the book.

Honor deals with a common concept in Muslim culture that means death on the grounds of family honor. In the Muslim culture, a woman who shamed the name of the family, the man takes the task of purifying the name. The mission is the death of the woman. In the Muslim world, the woman's death in this context is legitimate, and the man remains free, in England this act is considered murder and the man goes to prison. Iskandar does not want to cause his mother's death, "only" to cause her injury, as a threat, but he kills his aunt, Jamila. He goes to prison for murder.

The name of the book deals with traditional culture versus liberal culture, but it also follows that the book deals with the dignity of the man.

From this it can be concluded that "honor" is a hegemonic-patriarchal term, and Elif Shafak seeks to undermine it, undermining its existence because it violates women's dignity and rights.

The sixth space Mysticism space

Mysticism emphasizes the emotional experience. Mysticism in Western female literature is a rare subject and the research on the subject is limited. Elif Shafak's mysterious woman hides the mysticism she reveals to herself, but also uses it. In the past women who engaged with mysticism and the super-sensory experience were called "witches" and were friends with Satan and evil. In Honor mysticism is attributed to strong women

The seventh space, the domestic space,

In many ways, embarking on a journey stems from a threatening feeling. Something in the domestic space feels to the main female character in-home, threatened, and she emerge from it into the world.

In the field of education, the father is the one who presses Pemba and Jamila to go out to learn, educate and develop the knowledge while the mother is the one who stops them. The father represents Ataturk, the great spiritual of Turkey that brought Turkey modernity, removed the women from their veils and brought them to study.

The eighth space feminine existentialist space.

Elif Shafak proves that woman is no longer an object but a subject. Elif Shafak's women are strong, independent, opinionated, and fighting for their physical and mental place, and only such women can go out into the world.  Their return to the initial space is not weakness but strength. They return to be like their mothers but complete with themselves, with their choice, because they know what to do with the power they have gained in their journey.

Pemba wants to be like the doctor she saw at the hospital. This woman was used to heard by people, including men, listen to her every word, and she wants to be like her.

The ninth and final space, in which I will close a circular journey in Elif Shafak's books, is the textual technical space.

Cultural researcher Mikhail Bakhtin introduced the concept of chronotype to describe a combination of time (chronos) and space (topos). For him, there is a close relationship between space and time, and they interact. The chronotype is not a place or a linear time but can be simultaneous.

Elif Shafak moves in her narrative between the present and the past. Shafak also uses polyphony. Elif Shafak's purpose in this technique is to present herself as a writer with technical abilities that defy patriarchal hegemony. Moreover, women writers in the Muslim world.

The technical-textual space creates a writer whose narrative in her books is a tight, intertextual and interdisciplinary narrative, from which the spaces flow in chronotype and reborn as a New Mastisa.


On this journey, I went out and entered nine spaces to find the new Mastisa, like nine lunar months until the woman's departure from weakest woman she once was to a woman who promised herself never to shut up, through an urban journey between different and major cities of the world and back to the domesticated space in the small village; I passed memories of the distant past and the near past; I learned that many languages ​​allow cross-cultural dialogue and a bridge; And even if I think I see characters on the road or dreaming of – I'm not crazy and certainly not a witch; Characters who "disappear" to me during this journey are just because I don't need them anymore; That the domestic space may also be elusive, but that is what the new mastisa contains; And Elif Shafak's writing is exceptional writing in the female and Muslim literary world. These spaces engage in dialogue with each other, intertwining each other to create a new woman.

Like Anzaladua, Shafak's main character also live the intersection and blend into many worlds and are a repetition that constitutes anti-hegemonic-patriarchal intertextuality and gender subversion.

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