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The Silence of Scheherazade

"At once breathtakingly sweeping and textured with alluringly fine detail, this beautifully written story set in the Aegean city of Smyrna in the lead up to WWI is a sumptuous tour de force."

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LoveReading Says

LoveReading Says

Taking in the cultural complexities of the Ottoman Empire through the compelling, criss-crossing stories of Levantine, Greek, Turkish and Armenian characters, Defne Suman’s The Silence of Scheherazade is an astounding feat of historical fiction - tremendously ambitious, and dazzlingly realised through the author’s exquisitely-threaded plotting and lush storytelling.

It’s September, 1905, and one moment seals the fates of four very different families. This is the moment Scheherazade is born in cosmopolitan Smyrna to a mother numbed by opium. Though her namesake is the legendary storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights, she’s mute. A silent girl who grows up to bear witness to the brutality that eventually besets her city - the death and destruction, the expulsion of communities, the impending outbreak of WWI, and the burning.

The magic of the city is dazzlingly evoked and intertwined with both the socio-political context and the very moving, very personal stories of this novel’s vast cast of characters. This is a novel to savour, to be dazzled by, to learn from, and reflect on. It invites utter immersion.

The LoveReading LitFest invited Defne to the festival to talk about The Silence of Scheherazade.

The digitally native, all year round, online literature and books festival, with new content released every week is a free-for-all-users festival.

What are you waiting for? Check out a preview of the event and sign up to become a member. 

Joanne Owen

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Reader Reviews

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A rich, immersive novel about complex familial relationships in the heady and unsettling days following the end of the Ottoman Empire.

Scheherazade is a girl rescued from the burning streets of Smyrna as rival Greek and Turkish armies battle for supremacy in post-war Anatolia. A melting pot of religions and cultures, the once beautiful and vibrant Smyrna has become a febrile, destabilised centre of mounting political tension. As Scheherazade grows up with her adopted Greek family, the story of another family, prominent Levantines in an affluent community, intertwines with her own. As the secrets of Scheherazade’s past are finally revealed a complex and devastating tale of secrets and subterfuge emerges.

This is an intricate, evocative book. There is a large cast of characters and the author flits between these, whilst always returning to the silent Scheherazade, as the heart of the book.... Read Full Review

Clare Wilkins

Well-written and interesting story.

I knew very little about this subject and found it very interesting. It’s set in Smyrna,(now Izmir) in Turkey between 1905 and the present and tells the story of four families: Greek, Turkish, Levantine and Armenian, all linked by the woman known as Scheherazade. The historical events are at times difficult to follow for readers who are unfamiliar with the circumstances that led to the destruction of the city, but I was impressed with the balanced way the author presented the facts.
It’s well written, and very evocative of the sights, sounds and smells of the city, full of detail about food, clothes and places. It’s a translated book, so there are times when the flow of the language isn’t quite right, but that’s a minor concern.... Read Full Review

Evelyn Love-Gajardo

This has been beautifully translated and is the author’s English language debut. The style requires some concentration, but it is an interesting and arresting read.

This has been beautifully translated and is the author’s English language debut. The style requires some concentration, but it is an interesting and arresting read. I found the characters were all well written and the sights, sounds and atmosphere of the city of Smyrna are brought to life very effectively.
The story begins with the arrival of the spy Avinash showing how he works hard to become anonymous and fit in with the various people and nationalities around him, but notices everything and everyone. The reader is then introduced to more of the people born and raised in the city, and is shown their varying reactions to the arrival of the British.... Read Full Review

Kathy Howell