Elif Shafak’s “The Saint of Incipient Insanities” and the power of coincidence

Katzensonate Ludwig Spohr Museum Kassel
© Mine Krause

Standing in front of this “Cat sonata” picture in the Ludwig-Spohr-Museum (Kassel), I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the human-like cats we sometimes encounter in Elif Shafak‘s novels. However, today’s blog post is not so much about cats, but rather about the power of coincidence. Recently, people were discussing the topic “totalitarianism of utopia” on Twitter. As it was a cold November evening, I soon decided to get away from my computer to start reading Elif Shafak‘s The Saint of Incipient Insanities with a cup of hot chocolate on my lap. The humorously written story of two foreigners searching for their identity in the US was interrupted by an original description of two cats called “West” and “The Rest”… reminding me somehow of Muriel Barbery‘s two cats “Constitution” and “Parlement” in L’Élégance du hérisson (published a few years later). As so often with Shafak’s animals, the reader can feel their intelligence… “Pasha the Third” and “Sultan the Fifth” in The Bastard of Istanbul, the cat “Garbage” in Flea Palace, Ella’s dog in The Forty Rules of Lovethey all have a particular charm and sometimes seem to understand certain situations faster than their masters.

library stamp Elif Shafak The Saint of Incipient Insanities
© Mine Krause

But back to our topic: Looking at the photo on the right, one might think I stole this novel from a public library in New York. I swear I didn’t. On the first pages of this edition I came across a book title that made me wonder about the power of coincidence:  Slavoj Zizek‘s “Did somebody say totalitarianism?” There it was, a piece of information useful to the ongoing Twitter discussion. I took my computer to share my insights….

To cut a long story short: It is fascinating how a novel sometimes gives us the answer to a question or problem we face in real life. This is not the first time such a thing has happened to me. Maybe we are looking for ourselves each time we read and therefore see what we want to see. Even though in this particular case, I’m seriously wondering how Elif Shafak could possibly know what I was searching for…

It’s true that books are our best and most loyal friends. They will be whatever we want them to be. To a certain extent, they are also the mirror of our souls. There is no better way to learn empathy than by reading novels by wonderful Turkish authors like Elif Shafak, Mario Levi, Nazlı Eray, Latife Tekin, Buket Uzuner, Ahmet Ümit, Leylâ Erbil, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Oğuz Atay and many others. They open our horizon and make us develop an intercultural mind that does not shy away from encounters with the “Other”. Often, such books will also uncover emotions that we long thought forgotten. Coincidence? The answer is yours.


Paris, 19.11.2013                               Mine Krause


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