Literature is something that matters. It has the power to change and shape our minds and opinions. It has the power to change the perception of the world around us and to boost our imagination. Take us far away from the reality to the world of illusions and let our minds flourished with imagination. One might think how amazing it is, but fiction as it is here today may often matter much more than it is meant to.
TED is a non-profit global community whose mission is to spread ideas usually in the form of short talks which last no more than 18 minutes. TED began in 1984 as a conference, and today covers wide range of topics – from science to philosophy to global issues – in more than 100 languages welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. Both of the presenters whose ideas I will mention are novelists and story tellers. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian anglophone writer who succeeded in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature. In her novels, she is inspired by the history of her nation and its tragedies that are forgotten by recent generation of westerners.
Elif Shafak is a Turkish novelist born in Strasbourg, France who is the most widely read female writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages. Ch. N. Adichie in her talk warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. Things are not usually just black and white and we have to make every effort to open our minds and explore what is real. Elif Shafak talks about the danger into which writers from different cultures are put at; the pressure-that-makes-them-feel-as-a-representatives-of-their-cultures.
She makes a strong division between fiction and reality – fiction and daily politics. Although, both of the writers are of non-western origin which to some extend make them quite similar in terms of cultural stereotypes, it seems that they do not share the same view of function of a story in our lives.
While talking about the cultural and social background of these two writers, there are many things in which they differ, although their life journeys have many in common. Ch. N. Adichie was born in Nigeria, Africa. She grew up in a conventional middle-class family, her father was a professor and her mother was an administrator. She had a very happy childhood in a very close-knit family. However, a kind of political fear invaded their lives on the place they live. However, Chimamanda was a happy child who was writing stories about white people, just like those who she was reading about in books. On the other hand, Elif Shafak; although, she has Turkish parents, was born in France, Europe and when her parents got separated she was bringing up by her mother and her grandmother in Turkey.
Her position was quite dissimilar to Adichie’ as she was not living in a nuclear family. She grew up in a patriarchal environment where fathers were the heads of households. She was raised as a single child by a single mother, which was; at those times, a bit unusual. Elif Shafak was an introverted child talking to her imaginary friends. She had a vivid imagination and unlike Adichie, she was not inspired by stories that she had read, but she wrote about people she had never seen and things that never really happened. Nevertheless, their writing experience took place at the same time. They both started to write around the age of 7; though, their style was different. Moreover, the life journey of these two women seems to be quite similar. Just like Adichie, Shafak also studied abroad. They have travelled the world and this made these women who they are nowadays. It made them being experienced, open-minded and well-educated,-powerful-women.
This leads me to the matter of stereotypes. As I mentioned, both writers have travelled a lot and during their lives they have experienced stereotypes on their own skin. Ch. N. Adichie mentions several personal stories from her life in which she pays attention to the stereotypes. She talks about how her roommate in the USA was surprised that she had learnt speak English so well, that she had not been raised in poverty, that music which Adichie was listening to was not different in any feature from mainstream one. Chimamanda focuses on African stereotypes that she experienced. As a result, she demonstrates that stereotypes are created by single stories, and the problem with the stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.
At the same time, Elif uses her personal experience as well. Like Adichie, she attended a school abroad as well, and she experienced cultural stereotypes. She talks about the clusters based on cultural identity. The school, which she attended, was multicultural. The only problem was that each child was seen as a representative of his or her nation and every time something happened in connection to their nation they were ridiculed and bullied because of it. As Adichie experienced stereotypes concerning Africa, Elif Shafak came across some cultural stereotypes concerning her nationality as well and these were politics, smoking and veil. Doesn’t matter she had never been smoking before, or she had never been raised in a environment where a rule of wearing a veil was obligatory, she was expected to do so because it was a general image of her nation and her culture.
In contrast, the notion of power is discussed from different points of view by these two writers. To clarify this, I will put down both of them in sequence. The most significant difference is in context they use. On one hand, Adichie talks about the power as the ability not just to tell the story, but also as the ability to chose which story is being told, how it is told, who tells it; therefore, the ability to make from one story the definite one, the single story. She appeals not that much to writers, but to readers and people in general. She demonstrates how important it is not to see things just black and white; thus, try to open our minds and explore.
Without doubt, Elif’s viewpoint to the question of power is quite distinct. It seems to me like the other side of the coin when she; unlike Adichie, analyses the relation between power and writer not power and reader. Shafak puts into relation power with the notion of pressure. She demonstrates how writers are seen as the representatives of their cultures. In her talk, she manifests how world of politics affects the way stories are being written, reviewed and read. If you are a person with a particular cultural background you are expected to write informative and characteristic stories about your world and to show manifestation of your identity.
As an illustration, Elif as a woman from a Muslim world is expected to write stories of Muslim women and preferably, the unhappy stories of unhappy Muslim women just because she happened to be one. And in connection to this, here comes the main distinction between their understanding of power. While Adichie sees a story and fiction as tools for shaping our minds by which we can understand people, nations and things what they really are, Shafak thinks that when stories are seen as more than stories, they lose their magic; in other words, she says fiction is just fiction, not daily politics.
In both cases one must admit that thoughts which were brought up were relevant. It doesn’t matter what is your cultural background; what is important it is your personal growth. These two women have stepped over the shadows of their cultural stereotypes. They pointed at a serious problem of nowadays in a context of literature and the credibility of information itselves. They both; however, in a different way, open people’s minds and let us think. And this is when a story matters.