The Silence of Scheherazade
by Defne Suman
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 19 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 31 Aug 2021
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 harbor 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.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 69 members
A beautiful gripping saga of the small town of Smyrna in Asia Minor. As the great grand-daughter of someone who died in Asia Minor during the 1921 Armenian Holocaust, this book had great personal meaning for me. Some authors who I've read who write details of the horrific violence and difficulties faced by the Greeks and Armenians who lived in the Ottoman Empire during that time easily get bogged down in the details, confusing the reader (it IS mind-boggling, all the dates, who lived where, when, etc). The story of the silent girl who has lived through horrific times is tenderly told, and through the eyes of Avinesh, Panagiota, and Edith, we get to view an intimate perspective of a little understood time in the early 20th century. I'm grateful that these stories are being told now, especially after President Biden acknowledged the Armenian genocide this past year, validating the experience of so many millions around the world. Highly recommended.
Really enjoyed this book! It was the first one for me to read by this author and I can't wait to read more! The characters stick with you long after the book is over.
WOW JUST WOW Firstly, this book contains some strong content such as ableism, abuse, colonialism, death, depression, drug addiction and abuse, mental health and suicide, misogyny, rape, racism, stillbirth, war, violence and many more – it is not an easy read but it is well worth it. Set in the multicultural city of Smyrna in 1905, a little girl is born to a mother who is addicted to opium on the same day that a spy for the British Empire also arrives in the city. The reader is treated to a story that in intertwined through four different families all from four different cultures. The setting is described perfectly, the characters are well written and the narrative is exquisite, with nothing really lost in translation so props to the translator. I cannot say anymore without giving anything anyway. It is a truly magical read
Scheherazade herself would have been proud of the tale-spinning talents Suman shows off here. Such a beautifully-written, fast-moving, compelling book. I've recommended it to several others, and look forward to including it in an upcoming round-up of my favorite books of the year.
This was a captivating, evocative and frightening book about early 20th century Smyrna. I’ve been fascinated by the Great Fire of Smyrna since Jeffery Eugenides’ Middlesex in which the fire serves as the cover for damning sin, and I’m glad to have found another excellent book about this horrific event that should not be allowed to fade from memory. Scheherazade is a mute found by a Turkish family during the Great Fire and whose origins remain quietly unquestioned. Smyrna has vanished, Izmir stands on its ashes, and only the ghosts remember the city of old. Entire neighbourhoods were incinerated, people vanished and names forgotten, and like Scheherazade the city is mute. In her old age, she breaks her silence not to live, but to be able to die. The Smyrna of her past is an enchanting, cosmopolitan city. Scheherazade was a result of her wealthy Levantine mother’s affair with a Turkish driving instructor, separated from her mother at birth by an Armenian midwife desperate to pay off her husband’s gambling debts, and then raised by a Greek family. The book explores the stories of each of these families as they draw closer to that fateful date in 1922, their joys and fates increasingly coloured by the Greco-Turkish war raging on in Asia Minor, and geopolitical manoeuvrings in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire. The naivety and innocence of peacetime stands in chilling contrast to the imminent horror that awaits, the conviction that such atrocities are not just impossible but unimaginable. Whilst this is a book about the richness of one person’s life, it is also about how little control we wield over our own fates - ‘She could not have known that this feeling was a result of events that had been set in motion long ago, years before she was born, and that had been passed to her from another, had seeped into her essence. With a logic that was both simple and limited, she considered cause and effect to be entirely contained within one’s own lifespan and so believed that this fate was the outcome of some deficiency in her character.’ #TheSilenceofScheherazade #DefneSuman
With thanks to netgalley for an early copy in return for an honest opinion Not read anything by this author before all I can say its a beautifully poignant and extremely well presented book the richness and opulence is in abundance I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
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. What a wonderful book historical and centered around Turkey so took you deep in to the country and it’s Cultures. The characters were a plenty but believable. Trigger warnings in the book death , murder, rape, racism to name a few.
This is a well written book. The author, Defne Suman tells the story from multiple points of views spanning from roughly 1905 to later on WW2. and includes the fall of the Ottoman Empire with its constant battles. The cultural differences are brought alive by the poetic language describing the rising sights, sounds, hearts and idiosyncratic lives of this magical city. Delightful read. Thank you to NetGalley and Heads of Zeus for an early copy.
Oh. This novel. This is so far (August 19th) my favorite read of 2021. I was lucky to read an e-arc in April and didn’t stop thinking about this book since then. The Silence of Scheherazade is set in Smyrna, a cosmopolitan city in the Ottoman Empire, at the beginning of the twentieth century. It tells the stories of different families of various cultures and backgrounds, and takes the reader on a journey through the years and historical events: the first world war, the greco-turkish war, the great fire of Smyrna, all these leading to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and birth of the city of Izmir on the ruins of Smyrna. It’s a stunning novel about love, family and fate. This book has everything I love about historical fiction. It completely pulls you in and shows you this place, these people and events that are no more and will never be again. It’s an intricate and detailed reconstitution of a slice of history that I felt privileged to look at. Following these characters as they’re going through life with a certain naivety, while knowing that tragedy was about to strike ; knowing that this was not going to last, seeing the fateful day getting closer. I wanted to stay with these characters and accompany them to the end of their journey. I thoroughly loved the experience of reading this book, how each chapter kept me engaged. There were wonderful moments of hope and joy, despite the heavy sense of doom that permeates the entire novel. Ultimately it’s a story about life and time, about coincidences. It reminded me of how fleeting each moment was. The Silence of Scheherazade touches on many topics and themes, and while being about a specific city at a specific time in history, it also manages to be very universal. Themes like imperialism, war and everything that entails are really at the core of the book. It tells the story of a handful of characters going through the end of an empire and the birth of a country, shows how war seeps from the higher ranks of power down to the citizens, how fear breeds hatred and turns neighbors into enemies. The Silence of Scheherazade is a story of women, as they are the ones who carry this tale. It’s a book about female characters of different cultures and backgrounds, trying to navigate a world in which everything was built in order to make life more difficult for them. I loved following their stories, watching them interact and influence each other’s paths. One of the many things I loved in this novel was the setting and the work that was put into recreating Smyrna. A specific attention is paid to the scenery, the descriptions, so much that I was building my own little movie in my head while I was reading. I really felt like I was entering another space. Smyrna felt like a character, and that is one thing I definitely love in fiction: locations that have so much soul that they feel like a person. The omniscient narrator gives this story a special power. Everything in this felt grand, almost magical. At times, it was hard to know what really happened, what was romanced by the narrator, or embellished, or altered by time. It really is like listening to an elderly person telling stories of their youth. There is this special pleasure in telling the story, keeping the reader engaged and excited, while being at times very moving and at others surprisingly detached in the way the events are exposed ; a pleasure in sometimes confusing the reader in order to create more excitement. This is a book that celebrates storytellers, and I loved that. The writing was pretty magical, with something that felt ancient, leaving me with the sensation of reading words that had been written long ago. I mean, Scheherazade is the name of one of the world’s best known and most ancient storytellers, and it really felt like The Silence of Scheherazade was written following this tradition of storytelling and oral tradition. I felt pulled in a tale that was so connected to the idea of epic poetry and ancient theatre. There is something beautifully theatrical about how this book is written and how we enter and discover each space. It’s not only about the setting and storytelling, because the characters are just as powerful. They are strong, excessive figures, sometimes bordering on clichés, in the best way because they almost feel like archetypes. Larger than life characters for sure. I just really love stories that feature a large cast of characters from different backgrounds who end up interacting and being connected to each other. I love characters who transcend the story they’re a part of, who manage to live outside of the confines of a single book and feel like they’ve existed way before this story was written. I felt like I had met versions of these characters before, in classic literature especially, which made the whole experience really magical and gave it a kind of magnificence that I look for in my favorite historical fiction books! Each of the characters felt fully developed and tangible, but also like a complete plot device, a pawn that Defne Suman used to move the plot forward. Every one of them had a reason to be there as they all played a small part in the story, even the ones that initially looked like they were insignificant. I enjoyed seeing them take their respective places in the narrative as I got closer to the end. Finally, I’d like to quickly talk about how beautiful the prose was, and mention Betsy Göksel who did a wonderful job translating this novel. She managed to bring it to English speaking readers while keeping the story rooted in its west asian soil. I found the pacing was near perfect for my taste, pretty fast at times while also taking the time to really create a specific atmosphere. Every chapter ends in a way that makes you want to read the next one, which is exactly what you’d expect of a novel whose narrator is called Scheherazade. It’s a book with an impressive cast of characters, all linked to each other, and a lot of going back and forth in time ; two things I absolutely love, but that can be confusing for some readers. I’d recommend this book for people who love historical fiction and/or family sagas and multigenerational stories. This will probably stay one of my favorite reads of 2021: it feels like a slice of history, it holds so much sadness and despite the heavy sense of doom, it made me hope and smile for its characters. This novel will stay with me for a long time and I’m excited to read more of Defne Suman’s work once it gets translated. A massive thank you to NetGalley and Head Of Zeus for this ARC! Content warnings: war and violence (includes depiction of wounds, hunger, cruelty, torture, exile…), death (includes death of a family member), fire, rape, suicide, depression, mental illness, abuse (includes parental abuse), imprisonment, pregnancy, childbirth, stillbirth, drug use and addiction, colonialism, misogyny, ableism, racism, cheating