Cover Image: The Silence of Scheherazade

The Silence of Scheherazade

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DNF at 30%. 

I really hate DNF-ing book but in this case I must. Reading this is literally draining me. I've been reading for 4 days and I am barely at 30%, I cannot go on like this. I feel I am swimming in a ocean full of litter that's preventing me to see the wildlife. There's an abundance of details and names that is in no way enriching the story(in fact I am still not sure what the story is *eye roll*). The point of view keeps changing from Edith to her mom to Scheherazade to another girl, adding to my overall confusion.

It is a shame as from the synopsis this should have been a great novel, atmospheric and full of life, presenting the reader a totally new world(well an old world, but new as in unknown), almost a mythical one!

Many thanks for the opportunity to read this!
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I liked the plot and the way the story unfolded. Sometimes it did feel a little too ambitious to me but I guess that's just the cynic in me!
The writing is great for the most part but does falter in places. I didn't like the way the perspective kept shifting. it was hard to stay focused but a good read if you're down for an immersive book.
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3.5/5.
The Silence of Scheherazade is set in Smyrna (now known as Izmir) and weaves together the lives of various characters leading up to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The first third of the book is slightly confusing with so many characters and the constant jumping back and forth between different times. However, it does start to pick up and even though I didn't fully understand exactly what was happening in certain chapters, the overarching plot was compelling enough to convince me to read on. I think the translation at times is a little bit clunky, certain phrases lack the lyrical quality of Suman's work but overall the tone is not significantly impacted. 
I did really enjoy the last half of the book and it was satisfying to finally understand how the characters are linked.
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I really liked this book.  It was a different historical fiction book to read, set in a different time than the usual WW books.  It was really well written and well developed.
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This is a book with a complex narrative structure. Its story is told by Scheherazade who had been silenced by the traumatic and catastrophic events that led to the Great Fire of Smyrna, which killed and displaced tens of thousands. When she eventually breaks her silence, she weaves multiple threads into her storyline, which are not always linear in their chronology. This is made even more intricate by the fact that the true identity of the narrator will only be fully revealed as we work our way through her story. However, stay with her and you will be richly rewarded. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, Smyrna - today’s Izmir – was one of the wealthiest cities of the Ottoman empire, a cosmopolitan and tolerant society. Schehezerade’s story is personal, but it is also the story of the downfall of the Ottoman empire and the role that the European powers played in it – essentially pulling the strings in the background to serve their own political interests. 

The story starts to fully deepen when the lives of the main characters – and there are many of them(!)- become entwined. It is this entanglement of people from all walks of life and different cultures that allows Defne Suman to be so even-handed in her representation of the colourful and well-functioning melting pot Smyrna was at the turn of the century. One of the key scenes in the book takes place on New Year’s Eve 1921 in the enormous kitchen of one of the wealthy European families who have made a comfortable living for themselves in this part of the world. This scene represents a micro cosmos of Smyrna: Greeks, Turks and Armenians work together with their new sensitivities since the Greek takeover, whilst elegant foreigners mingle in the ballroom, enjoying their decadent celebrations. At the same time, two opposing armies of men who grew up together lay in wait for the spark that will ignite the place they all love and they all call home. As one of the main protagonists has it: ‘We are all living on borrowed time’. 

This book is beautifully written, through the lives of its protagonists we experience the tragedy and the complexities of war as well as the deep traces it leaves on the human experience. It is dedicated ‘To those who have been exiled from their homeland’. The parallels to what happens in so many other parts of the world at the moment make it an even more compelling read.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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There is so much to love and appreciate about this book, the writing is fantastic, the sense of time and place is wonderful, and the characters are full of depth and so varied. I learned a great deal about a piece of history I knew nothing about, which is one of the reasons I love historical fiction. The only thing I struggled with, until I understood how this format was being presented, were all the jumps in time and a large cast of characters to place during these jumps. Once I figured that out and became more familiar with the characters, it read more smoothly but really, the luscious writing, the beautiful descriptions of both a beautiful, bustling Smyrna, and then the chaos that follows, is so worth the time taken to read this book. I also feel this book would be wonderful as a reread as well, going in the second time with a better understanding of the format and already knowing the cast of characters.

4.5 stars rounded up to 5
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This book was beautifully written and while not what I expected or usually pick to read, the author kept me engaged with the characters and the development.
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Unfortunately,it just felt too long and too complicated. Guess it just wasn't for me. 

Big thnx to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me the opportunity to read this arc in exchange of my honest opinion.
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Back in May when I requested the eARC of this magnificent book, I did not imagine it’d be THIS. I’ve always been a huge fan of well-crafted third person omniscient point of view. However, they don’t write it like the authors of the past did. Most authors who use third person omniscient POV don’t get it right, thus tarnishing the reputation of this amazing storytelling method, just like prologue and second person POV. But at the deft hands of Defne Suman, this storytelling put an extraordinary touch to this story.

I also adore reading historical fiction about events the whole world is unaware of. I was aware of how the Ottoman Empire sundered into many countries after the Great War. What I wasn’t aware of was the consequences of this sundering on the locals. The Allies cut the pieces of the once great Ottoman Empire like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They didn’t take into account the effects on the lives of the locals, like they didn’t take into account dividing India into two countries, or Korea/Vietnam into a North and a South section. Western white people have always taken advantage of local conflicts and fanned the flames of those fires into epic proportions to divide countries. It happened in ’47 in South Asia when the subcontinent was divided into two countries, India and Pakistan. Deadly riots broke out across the country, creating irreparable divide between the Hindu and the Muslim population. Almost the same thing happened in Turkey in early 1920s, but also not quite in the same way. Defne Suman masterfully gives us a fictional account of 1922’s Great Fire of Smyrna, today’s Izmir, and the massacre of the Greek and the Armenian populace. Through the story of four families (one Greek, one Turkish, one Levantine, and one Armenian), she’s showed us the unspeakable horrors of that event.

The tragic fate of the four families is united through one thread. I won’t reveal what it is but if you didn’t guess the plot twist by the 50% mark, prepare to gasp aloud and wonder for a long time around the 90% mark. Because I guessed the twist by 50% mark, I was pretty pleased with how deftly Defne Suman plotted and executed this story. It’s not easy to incorporate multiple POV in a story, let alone in an omniscient POV. You won’t feel like head hopping when you’re reading. Ms. Suman effortlessly slips into her characters’ head and you won’t even mind it, rather admire it.

Anyway, the story is about the aforementioned four families. Edith Lamarck is the youngest daughter of a French expat, whose rebellious streaks exasperate her scheming mother and win over her lover, British-Indian spy, Avinash Pillai. Panagiota Yogcioglu is a Greek teenager whose doting yet strict mother curbs at her teenage fanciful dreams of romance and adventure. Avinash Pillai is an Indian-British spy who strives to achieve the British standards of being a gentleman and loves Edith wholeheartedly. The Rahmi family as a whole tries to survive after most men of their house leave for one war after the other. Meline is a gifted, experienced Armenian midwife whose conscience repeatedly reminds her of a past deed she cannot forget and cannot forgive herself over. The lives of multiple characters of both the four families and from outside cross paths throughout the story many times. At the end, you’ll be left pondering over the peculiarity of humanity. One moment a person can show the most touching of kindness, then the next moment they can display such barbaric, ruthless behavior that you’ll be left wondering if they had a doppelganger out to tarnish their names. Not many books succeed in showing such complexity and multiplicity of human nature. Defne Suman is a master storyteller whose books adequately portray the multifaceted nature of human beings.

(Side note: I couldn’t not mention this here, but the repeated use of the term g*psy threw me off. This is a term the Romani folks do not liked to be called.)

Thank you, NetGalley and Head of Zeus, for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
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I was given this book as an ARC by NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This is an epic story of a part of history I knew nothing about. There are some wonderful characters who I quickly got invested in. The problem was that there were so many characters to keep track of. The story jumps around in time but it’s left to the reader to puzzle out where it has jumped to. Dates would certainly have helped here.
Overall, the story was a really interesting one with a satisfying conclusion, it was just a little complicated to make it a really enjoyable read.
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An amazing story told so beautifully.

Defne Suman transports her readers to the beautiful town of Smyrna at a critical time in its history. The lives of her multi cultured characters become intertwined with the birth of a baby girl in 1905 and as we follow their lives you become immersed in their different cultures. 

At times a hard read as the author does not hide the atrocities carried out during this period, but that adds to the realness and depth of this story.

A highly recommended novel, one of the best I have read this year.

I was give a copy of The Silence of Scheherazade by NetGalley and the publishers in return for an unbiased review.
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The writing is absolutely gorgeous but it’s very dense. A bit confusing at times and I found it rather slow in places.
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The Silence of Scheherazade is the complex and lyrical tale of four families living in the ancient city of Smyrna (now the modern city of Izmir), during the latter years of the Ottoman Empire. The story begins with a young woman smoking opium in a tower to allay the pains of childbirth, at the same time as a debonair Indian spy arrives by sea - his mission to spy for the British Empire. They don't yet know it, but their lives are inextricably linked. 

The story then plays out across the seventeen years that follow, taking in the triumphs and tragedies of a Levantine, a Greek, a Turkish and an Armenian family - four families settled in this ancient, cosmopolitan and vibrant city whose fates intertwine until a terrible night of brutal violence elicits a blazing inferno that shatters their lives.

This is a meandering tale that moves back and forth in time, encompassing oodles of detailed history and exploring the differences between the families as it delivers a rich and evocative look at how their culture and experience define both who they are and what they become. You can almost feel yourself walking among the different quarters of the city, drinking in the sounds, smells, and myriad languages that come with a place that has a history stretching back hundreds of years - a bustling and prosperous city, at the heart of an ancient empire. But beneath the surface, there are long held allegiances that are about to lead to conflict between neighbours, as an empire with its roots in the 13th century becomes the focus of attention from more than one nation intent on staking a claim to this land in the wake of WWI. 

It's fair to say that this is a book that you do have to digest slowly, because the language is elaborate, swinging between intricate descriptions of people, place and many layered history - kudos to the translator Betsy Göksel here, because this cannot have been an easy task. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and you have to concentrate hard to keep a handle on who's who, principally when their lives touch and you find yourself looking at the same people from different points of view: it would have been very helpful to have a cast list at the front of the book, because I did find myself getting a bit lost at times. 

However, I really enjoyed the way Defne Suman compares and contrasts the behaviour and customs of the different families, which not only serves to show what life is like in Smyrna, but also connects the strong female characters that anchor this tale in an intriguing way. It is the women of this story that we are really interested in - particularly Edith and Scheherazade - but you will have to read it for yourself to find out why. I would also suggest doing a little research into the history of Smyrna, as it is a book that assumes you have some idea of the political and ideological conflict that spans the course of the story, which I did not - this really helped me to understand what was happening, and took me down more than one fascinating rabbit hole.


For a story that has so much of the feeling of a fable about it, the title The Silence of Scheherazade is nothing short of brilliant. The way Suman weaves very human tales of birth, death, grief and romance rife with themes of silence, secrets, and storytelling is truly lovely, and is worthy of the famous narrator of the 1001 tales herself. This a challenging read that you have to invest time and attention in to reap the rewards, but it is certainly worth making the effort to discover its (Turkish?) delights, especially if you know very little about the history of this part of the world.
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“At the heart of the Ottoman Empire, in the ancient city of Smyrna, a devastating moment determines the fates of four families.”

The story starts with the birth of Scheherazade as a British spy makes his arrival in the ancient city of Smyrna. It then snakes it’s way through the fall of the Ottoman Empire as World War One rages, the capture of the city by the Greeks in 1919, before the Turkish take control and the great fire lays claim to so much of the city in 1922.

The descriptions of the city are incredibly detailed and bring the city to life, and the horror of war is writ large throughout the book. The final quarter of the book is incredibly fast paced, gripping, and hard hitting, as the story of Scheherazade and the destruction of Smyrna comes to a crescendo. 

However, prior to that I’ll confess I was a bit confused. There are so many points of views and the story jumps between timelines meaning I was getting a little lost.  Not knowing the history made that more challenging. It would have helped maybe to have had at least the date at the start of each chapter to help with orientation.  I was reading on a kindle so it might have been easier to follow with an actual book where you could flick back and forwards more easily.
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4.5 Stars 

Before reading this book, my knowledge of the Ottoman Empire, the Greek-Turkish war, and the related genocide in Asia Minor was sketchy. In <i>The Silence of Scheherazade</i> the author doesn’t focus on the minutiae of history but still gives the reader enough background in this often graphic, brutal tale that revolves around the fate of four families. 

Set primarily in Smyrna (modern-day Izmir), it’s a vivid tapestry of love, friendship, struggle, survival and conflict. It’s incredibly confronting, and I was almost moved to tears by the end.   

As you might expect from historical fiction, it’s true to life, and in certain parts, no gruesome detail is spared, to the point at which you wish to heaven this was entirely fictional. But don’t let that put you off. It’s based on reality, after all, and should be something of a wake-up call for humanity. 

What I particularly loved about this book was the author’s beautifully rich, descriptive writing – truly a sensory delight, as well as the detail of long-since vanished customs and ancient traditions. 

A wonderful read! Thoroughly recommended! 

Thanks to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The Silence of Scheherazade is set during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, in the city of Smyrna. It follows multiple characters who live in different parts of the city, from different backgrounds, as they and the city are torn apart by war and its terrible consequences. This historical setting was something I knew hardly anything about, and I think that my lack of knowledge of the history sometimes hindered my reading experience a bit, especially in the beginning. I had a bit of a slow start, because all the city names were unfamiliar to me. I was immediately grabbed by the atmospheric writing though. After a while, the story became more focused and felt clearer to me as a reader. I still struggled with the chronology of the story at times - I don't mind non-linear storytelling as long as it's done well and I thought that Suman could have been clearer at times. I thought the characters were fleshed out and felt real to me, and I enjoyed reading about them. For the most part, I enjoyed the writing, though I didn't like how the perspective would change mid-way through the paragraph - reading what one person thought of a certain situation at one point, and then switching to a different character. Overall, I thought the story was solid and the last 100 pages were definitely the best for me.
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I received an ARC of this audiobook by the publisher via Netgalley in an exchange for an honest review.

Oof my heart. The Silence of Scheherazade is one of those books where you know the end before the beginning starts since it takes place during a tragic and inhumane part of history, the burning of Smyrna. And even within the first few pages you know the ending. But you don't know how the story got there. The burning of Smyrna is sadly not taught in the United States, but I'd read of it in passing in Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides (one of my favorite novels). I thought it was apart of the Armenian genocide but I believe I was partially wrong and it was part of the Greek genocide during the Greco-Turkish war. The only qualm I have with the description of the book is that it says the story is told through the intertwined stories of four families; one Greek, one Levantine (European descended families), one Turkish, and one Armenian. I don't think the story delved into the Armenian family. There is only one character who is Armenian and she's a secondary character and you never discover her fate at the end of the book. 

I requested this book because I knew my knowledge of history was lacking in this area. Suman doesn't go into detail about the specific history that I've recounted above (thank you Wikipedia) but describes the years leading up to the tragic event. This is a story that it based on the circular narrative of a phoenix: birth, death, and rebirth. It's a beautiful novel with rich descriptions of the beautiful city that once existed. However, it's tragic. It's a heartbreaking story which at certain points is gruesome and barbaric and makes you lose faith in humanity. It wasn't an easy book to get through, because of the pain it caused me to read about the tragedy. I was sobbing the last 20% of the book. The story however, is beautifully told with so many perfectly timed twists and poignant moments. But don't go into this book thinking it's going to be an easy trip. 

Please don't let my review dissuade you from picking up this book. It's important for us to remember these inhumane points in history, especially the ones that have happened within the last 100 years. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Never forget that humans can show great empathy for others but they can also be the cruelest of creatures.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.
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I am usually a very picky person when it comes to historical fiction but this story intrigued me. In the end, I found that it was a fairly solid story with an interesting concept. I enjoyed the historical aspect and the main character was wonderfully written, Suman is definitely an author whose future books I will pick up in the future for sure. I found the story to sometimes be a bit long though, there were constant descriptions of people you didn't really need but nevertheless, I think the book was wonderfully written and a good historical fiction read, especially for those not well versed in the Ottoman Empire history.
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Some exquisitely beautiful writing. Richly detailed and intricate. 

I enjoyed most of this book but unfortunately didn't fall in love with it. There are so many characters it's not always easy to keep track of who is who. I didn't mind the jumping about in time - that was fine - but I felt there were many inconsequential or repetitive conversations which could have been cut.

I didn't get fully to grips with any of the characters, though Edith was my favourite and I was interested in her story. I guessed the secrets while they were still being hinted at but again, this was not a problem. 

It's beautifully written and informative - I learned a lot about a particular part of history I had known little about - but overall I felt it was somewhat long and long drawn out.
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I didn’t love it. But I still needed to know what happened!

The setting of the novel is gorgeous, and the historical backdrop just so interesting. It’s almost like the city is also one of the characters you get very invested in.

Worth a read.
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