At the Breakfast Table

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Pub Date 01 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 01 Sep 2022

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Told from four different perspectives, At the Breakfast Table is a story of hidden histories and family secrets, from the author of The Silence of Scheherazade.

Buyukada, Turkey, 2017. In the glow of a late summer morning, family gather for the 100th birthday of the famous artist Sirin Saka. It ought to be a time of fond reminiscence, looking back on a long and fruitful artistic career, on memories spanning almost a century, but also of an era when imperial forces fought over her homeland.

But the deep past is something Sirin has spent a lifetime trying to conceal. Her grandchildren, Nur and Fikret, and great grandchild, Selin, do not know what Sirin is hiding, though they are intimately aware of the secret's psychological consequences. The siblings invite family friend and investigative journalist Burak along to interview Sirin for his weekly column in celebration of her 100th year. They hope he will help unravel the family secrets and persuade her to talk. Sirin's life-long servant, Sadik, is determined to do all he can to protect the artist.

Eventually Sirin begins to express her pain the only way she knows how. She paints the story onto her dining room wall, revealing a history wiped from public consciousness and the cause of her family's anguish that has sat, ruinous, in their subconscious for generations.

'Fiercely intelligent, finely textured and achingly beautiful' Elif Shafak

Told from four different perspectives, At the Breakfast Table is a story of hidden histories and family secrets, from the author of The Silence of Scheherazade.

Buyukada, Turkey, 2017. In the glow of...

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ISBN 9781800247031
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Featured Reviews

This book had short chapters, which made this a quick and easy read that was told from four different perspectives. It was well written with a well executed plot and well developed characters that were relatable. It was an enjoyable read.

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Told from four different perspectives, there are hidden histories and family secrets revealed.

Prinkipo Island, Turkey, 2017:

A family gathers for the 100th birthday of the famous artist Sirin Saka, but the deep past is something Sirin has spent a lifetime trying to conceal. Her grandchildren, Nur and Fikret, and great-grandchild, Selin, do not know what Sirin is hiding. They are aware of the secret's psychological consequences. The siblings invite family friends and investigative journalist Burak along to interview Sirin for his weekly column in celebration of her 100th year. They hope he will help unravel the family secrets and persuade her to talk. Sirin's life-long servant, Sadik, is determined to do all he can to protect the artist.


First off, I am so happy to have the opportunity to read and review this novel! At the Breakfast Table is full of dark secrets that a family must come to terms with once discovered. The main character will stop at nothing to protect her family from the past she has so desperately tried to keep hidden.

Overall, the plot is deep and well-written with characters that will surely become your new favorites! This was such a fun read to get into. I absolutely love this author!

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I quite enjoyed this. The story is being told from the perspective of four different characters who all interact, but each have very different motivations. Because of this, it's hard to see where the story is going at first, but it's great to get different angles as the threads slowly come together. There are a lot of jumps between the present and the past, which can sometimes require a bit of concentration to follow, but overall I found the book easy and pleasant to read. The final reveal of the family secret didn't disappoint either, it was a touching but not overly romanticised story in a beautiful setting.

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At The Breakfast Table was an unexpected but great read for us! We’ll be honest, the cover peaked our interest and we’re SO glad we received this arc. This story follows a Turkish family in Istanbul through one crazy day - a day filled with surprising discoveries and deep family secrets. We were hooked the whole time and the unfolding of the family history was beautifully written and incredibly interesting. The characters felt so realistic and we felt genuine care to for them and how the story fell into place!

+ family intricacies and drama
+ a little bit of spice
+ different povs AND hops in the timeline

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I enjoyed this book. Told from the perspectives of four characters; Celine, Nur, Sadik and Burak, the story deals with topics such as love, social status, one's personal history etc.

I felt the island setting was beautifully described and I could visualise the busy market, pier etc. I was engaged throughout and was curious as to Sadik and the grandmother's secret.

What I didn't like were the characters of Nur and Celine, especially Celine. I struggled during any Celine chapter. I found her irritating, self-absorbed and over the top in every scene. Her character for me took away some of my enjoyment reading the book.

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This book explores the long shadows that our pasts cast upon us, through two interwoven stories in one family. These come spilling out in the course of an idyllic summer day on an island in the Bosporus, as a family prepares for its matriarch’s birthday. ⁣⁣
The first story, the suspense that underlies the novel, concerns the matriarch and her manservant whose arrival in Istanbul in their youth lies unexplained - where did they come from, why did they leave, and what is this incomprehensible language they speak when they are unaware of being listened to? Turkey’s history is inescapably embedded into their personal narratives, as is the country’s reticence to address the uglier aspects of its past. This is about the stories we refuse to tell. ⁣⁣
The second story is a love story between a journalist friend and the granddaughter, and it is one of thwarted and unequal love that has endured decades. This then is about the stories we tell ourselves, stories that are often more captivating than the reality in front of us, and that in its repetition trap us in a past that no longer exists. ⁣⁣
#AtTheBreakfastTable #DefneSuman

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It took a while for me to get into this book; the chapters are written in first person by different characters that are central to the main story. The plot has many different strands, searching for answers in family history, trying to uncover trauma from within and dealing with love - hidden, unrequited and intense.
Once I'd familiarised myself with the characters and the writint style, I began to really enjoy this book. It's descriptive and intense as it covers interwined stories, none of which are straight forward. I really enjoyed the history that is unveiled - which I won't go into so no spoilers!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for my advance review copy.

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Highly recommend!! My first book to read by this author but definitely not my last!! Uniquely and beautifully written, this story and its characters stay with you long after you finish the book.

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Woah. So I had zero expectations when I started reading this, I was motivated to pick it up because it's set in Turkey. I really enjoyed this, a pleasant surprise. Although, you need to be patient because it doesn't "pick up" till like halfway through but it's so worth it watching everything fall into place.

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I really enjoyed the multiple perspectives and the glimpse into modern day life in Turkey (and the historical mystery!).

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This book is a take told from different perspectives. A tale of history hidden and kept secret.

It is set in Turkey, 2017 and the famous artist Sirin Saka is being interviewed fir her 100th birthday, however, that is only the beginning of the story. The reporter has a secret, her grandchildren have secrets, even her servant, an aged gentleman, has his secrets, especially about his history. All is revealed by the end of the story, everyone’s secret is out, life can continue at a more relaxed state and new history can be made.
An insight into the history of Turkey which will interest anyone who is curious about how lives have been altered by the past and how people cope with this.

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Not my typical type of read but I found the writing style really interesting and the characterisation very intriguing.

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The family of famous artist Shirin Saka has gathered on Prinkipo Island, Turkey to celebrate her 100th birthday. I loved how the descriptions of the island and ocean made me feel as though I was right there. In the days leading to the celebration, we learn of past regrets, personal struggles, fears, and family secrets. The chapters alternate between the main characters, each telling their own part of the story. A few places in the book were a bit confusing for me, but in all, I found this an enjoyable read. I received a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Every family has its secrets.

Some are earth shattering, some most assuredly not, but all of them are held close to the chest of their keeper/s for fear of what they could do to the family itself and to those outside looking in, who seldom let a sound perspective or facts stand in the way of censorious judgement.

In Defne Suman’s luminously lovely but emotionally exacting novel, At the Breakfast Table, the family of legendary artist Sirin Saka have gathered to celebrate a milestone for their matriarch at their ancestral family home on Büyükada (Prinkipo Island), a short ferry ride from Istanbul, but a world away once you step onto its bucolic, unhurried shores (unhurried save for the tourists who descend in summer).

She is about to turn 100, and in the days leading up to that momentous event, where celebration should be the sole order of the day, secrets begin to emerge, some small but still momentous for those affected by them, and a large, family-bestriding one that Saka, and her faithful companion/servant/friend Sadik Usta, have kept under the covers for well near a century.

As is the often the way with dam breaking, of the actual or metaphorical kind, small cracks appear at first, many of them engendered by the sheer fact that the family are back in a place where so much of their collective life has taken place and which, because of that, can’t help but feel redolent with a lifetime, several in fact, of memories, hopes raised and dreams sundered.

The breaking apart of the walls between generations and between the conventional family history, which is already painful enough as it is without any further surprises, is an organic one though it does receive a significant push along when Burak, a family friend of many years who is deeply in love with Saka’s granddaughter Nur – a love, by the way, that she dabbles in when emotional needs demand but which she puts aside like an item of convenience that can be accessed with no consequence – and who has become known for his journalistic series of profiles known as Portraits, which aim to bring to life hitherto unknown things about the subject.

He is there to interview Saka as much as to celebrate her life, and on the first morning he is there, at a breakfast table lavishly decorated with by Sadik who is in his early 90s but as committed and devoted as ever to the welfare of his beloved Saka, to talk to the artist who is strangely loquacious, ready to talk in a way the once-fiery rule-breaker often isn’t in her old age.

Burak’s is not a confrontational interview style, with the journalist in him happy to go where the subject leads, but while Saka doesn’t spill the beans there and then, enough is suggested for Burak, and other members, to come to understand there is more to the matriarch’s story that has previously been suggested.

In a way, the family isn’t necessarily eager to uncover the deep, dark truth of their shared past, but truth, once hinted at, often breaks mercilessly free from its cage, and so it is in At the Breakfast Table which, told from the vantage points of Sadik, Burak, Nur and her niece Celine, slowly builds the portrait of a family with a great deal to learn about each other.

Told with insightfully empathetic language and a poetical intent which still allows the raw truth and pain to come through when needed, At the Breakfast Table is a wondrously nuanced and deftly, slowly told tale which understands all too well that even the biggest of secrets rarely come rushing out with blockbuster-type force; rather they are revealed, inch by inch, memory by memory, the product of incremental admissions that together, over time, paint a picture of a world that the recipients never knew existed.

For all of the powerfully impactful emotional resonance of this gorgeously-rendered novel, it is luxuriously and thoughtfully told, with each of the four perspectives, which naturally encompass those too of Nur’s brother and Celine’s father Fikret, who is on a mission that sees him mysteriously disappear at the height of festivities, and Nur’s estranged husband Ufuk, who is keeping his distance from the family for reasons that come to light in the slowly-tumbling torrent of secrets that come to see the light of day over one unexpectedly intense weekend.

The beguiling genius of At the Breakfast Table is that it never submits to melodrama or high emotion, preferring a quiet, meditative and appealingly languorous, richly human approach, even when Celine is distraught over the father’s whereabouts or Burak is wrestling once again with his unending but fruitless attraction to Nur, who does not and seemingly cannot love him the way he wants.

Through the ruminatively unfolding beauty of a novel whose pace belies the momentous events and emotions within (though at dramatic point that does change to an almost manically earnest degree), we get to know each of the four people and those with whom they interact to degrees that feel invasively but welcomingly intimate.

There is both a sense of life unfolding as it always on Büyükada, with the family home wielding its usual magic and people falling into their expected and comfortable roles and patterns, and of the established order being upended, a status quo-changing turn of events that makes its presence felt slowly but surely, and which in its wake leaves a family not so much ruined, as different, good and bad, which is very much how life often tends to leave things – unfinished and somewhere messily in the middle.

At the Breakfast Table is a brilliantly evocative piece of writing, rich in memorable, exquisitely well-drawn and beautifully, fallibly, alive characters, a narrative that takes its time unspooling its secrets and which is more groundbreakingly intense that its pace or atmosphere might suggest, and a sense of humanity that understands how history, over which we hold little sway, and life choices come together to craft a reality which we can embrace or not, but which somehow, inevitably, will always find its way out, leaving the world, and in this case, a family changed in its wake.

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