I am delighted to share my review today for The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman, translated by Betsy Göksel.
I had requested this book via NetGalley and the publisher Head of Zeus very kindly accepted my request to read this fabulous title.
Set in the ancient city of Smyrna, this powerful novel follows the intertwining fates of four families as their peaceful city is ripped apart by the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
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 into 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.
This is a book that is a mix of historical fiction with a definite lean towards the literary fiction genre. It is the story of four families, an Armenian, a Levantine, a Greek and a Turkish. Starting in 1905 in the Aegean port city of Smyrna.
This book took me quite a few chapters before I could get to grips with it, and I found myself turning to the synopsis a couple of times in the first few chapters to try to get a better understanding of it. There are four different families to get your head around and also the alternating timelines. These timelines flit back and forth with the different family members and at times I found myself stumped as to who was who. I am however really glad I stuck with this book as things gradually started to make sense and I could start to recognise the characters and also their roles within the story.
Even though I was struggling with the characters I did find the writing to be evocative and completely enthralling. I know this may sound odd, the writing style is definitely on the literary side and I found it to be very mesmerising.
The story of the families in Smyrna is one that is wound up in tradition and also of a changing world. I did have a wander onto the internet so I could learn more about this period of history, it is an area that I didn’t really know much about so I found it really interesting to find photos, maps and other information about this ancient city.
The story of the families is one that has skeletons, heartache, loss, love and deception. As I got to know the main players I was able to recognise them, I could sympathise with the situations they found themselves in. Having families from different ethnicities gave differing perspectives of the world and of the trouble coming to the city. I found myself warming to several of the characters and was eagerly awaiting their next appearance in the story.
While this is very much a historical fiction book I did love the more literary writing style, it gave a more romanticised feel to the writing, and I do think this may lead some readers not to fully engage with it. I am so glad I persevered with the book and I found a story that was not only engaging but also very addictive. It is one I would definitely recommend.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.
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