At the heart of the Ottoman Empire, in the ancient city of Smyrna, a devastating moment determines
the fates of four families.
On an orange-tinted evening in September 1905, Scheherazade is born to an opium-dazed mother in
the ancient city of Smyrna. At the very same moment, a dashing Indian spy arrives in the harbour
with a secret mission from the British Empire. He sails in to golden-hued spires and minarets, scents
of fig and sycamore, and the cries of street hawkers selling their wares. When he leaves, seventeen
years later, it will be to the heavy smell of kerosene and smoke as the city, and its people, are
engulfed in flames.
But let us not rush, for much will happen between then and now. Birth, death, romance and grief are
all to come as these peaceful, cosmopolitan streets are used as bargaining chips in the wake of the
First World War.
Told through the intertwining fates of a Levantine, a Greek, a Turkish and an Armenian family, this
unforgettable novel reveals a city, and a culture, now lost to time.
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Defne Suman was born in Istanbul and grew up on Prinkipo Island. She gained a Masters in sociology from the Bosphorus University and then worked as a teacher in Thailand and Laos, where she studied Far Eastern philosophy and mystic disciplines. She later continued her studies in Oregon, USA and now lives in Athens with her husband. The Silence of Scheherazade was first published in Turkey and Greece in 2016 and is her English language debut. Twitter Instagram Website
My thoughts: set during an extremely tumultuous time in Smyrna (now Izmir), this is both the story of the city and of a girl, who lives under more than one name, whose life, like the city, undergoes great change and tragedy.
Born to a Levantine French teenager, raised by Ottoman Greeks, rescued by a Turkish family and given a new name, her story unfolds as the leadership of Smyrna goes back and forth and its people – Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Levantines, Europeans, are divided and turn against their neighbours.
Parts of this story are heartbreaking, there’s so much tragedy and death, the city burns to the ground and lives are lost pointlessly as the Ottoman Empire falls apart. Scheherazade’s life is filled with both joy and terrible tragedy and sadness. She loses her family more than once as she passes through the different communities of the city, ending her days in a tall tower in a crumbling mansion.
Beautifully written and translated, this is a moving and richly evocative story, conjuring a lost world where religious and ethnic lines didn’t matter as the people were all one, and a child like Scheherazade could be from any background. With stunning imagery and a sense of timelessness, like the Scheherazade of myth she’s named for, this tale weaves an enchanting spell.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.
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