Cover Image: The Silence of Scheherazade

The Silence of Scheherazade

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Member Reviews

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
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Exploring the intertwining fates of four families, this is a brutal yet compelling story. Readers should be warned there are numerous content warnings.
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This book was wonderfully descriptive to the point where I did feel as if I was being transported to another time and place, though at times it did feel too wordy. It follows some several characters and their stories whilst still feeling a little like a piece of non fiction due to the historical element. The writing was very engaging but difficult to get through at times due to the subject matter at certain points. I also find a timeline shift a little distracting at times and more so as a digital copy but overall I really did enjoy this, certainly a time in history I've not read about previously!
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"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 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."

Firstly, I have to say that this is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. I'm not typically drawn to historical fiction, but this sounded too good to pass!

I adored how this book had all these different characters whose lives intertwined at some point in the story. From the vivid descriptions of Smyrna, to the details of each characters' life, the story hooked me right from the start. There is something so unique about the way that history is told through the pages, that made this to be a very compelling read. During some chapters I had to stop and take a breath because there was so much beauty delivered only through a few words that blew my mind. I felt so many emotions while reading this!

The ending was so well-written. I was actually surprised by that twist in the middle, and as I connected the timelines, everything started making sense. This was such a unique and fascinating read. I'd highly recommend it if you're searching for a tale that spans years of history and heartbreak and doesn't let your eyes wander away from the page. What a great read!

Thank you to the publishers and netgalley for this beautiful arc!
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The Silence of Scheherazade is the epic story of the fall of the Ottoman Empire in cosmopolitan Smyrna, now Izmir, after the Greek occupation following WWI. I loved the richly poetic language, the vivid personalities and the fascinating glimpse into the lives and cultures of Greek, Armenian, Levantine and Turkish families. The city of Smyrna is almost another character and I felt its destruction as a tragedy.

It’s a complicated and very long story told from several points of view in different families and covers a period from 1905 to WWII. On the down side, although the writing is beautiful, I only give it four stars because the story was confusing at times. Perhaps I wouldn’t have found this a problem if I’d known anything about the history of Smyrna. The pace dragged three quarters of the way through but it picked up again near the end.

Despite the  slight technical problems with the plot, The Silence of Scheherazade made a huge impression on me. When I finished it, I came out of the book blinking in the light, feeling as if I had actually been there in Smyrna. This is a story that will stay with me for a long time.
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The Silence of Scheherazade captured the Turkish experience so well. Being a Turkish reader myself, the book was so entertaining to see parts of my culture & of course all that came with it. Will recommend it to my friends.
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The Silence of Scheherazade is a story narrated by a woman found passed out, burnt, covered in ashes, in the garden of a Turkish colonel in Smyrna. She is beautiful and silent. She brings with her unspoken stories of her past, of her people’s past, of her city’s past. Her saviours call her Scheherazade.
At Scheherazade’s birth, Smyrna, an ancient cosmopolitan city in the Ottoman Empire, filled with people of different heritages, Greek, Levantine, Turkish, Armenian, French, British, American and Indian, is about to undergo huge change as the power of the Ottoman Empire wanes and European forces fight over the spoils. Scheherazade’s story follows the shifts in power, dipping in and out of different families and peoples, exploring her own heritage and that of her city.
Unlocking her personal history gives voice to the silent masses who died in the war for supremacy over Smyrna. Defne Suman quotes J. M. Coetzee at the beginning of the novel: ‘Many stories can be told of Friday’s tongue, but the true story is buried within Friday, who is mute. The true story will not be heard till by art we have found a means of giving voice to Friday.’ The Silence of Scheherazade is her way of giving Friday a voice.
The story and the writing are rich and rewarding. There are passages, particularly towards the end during the desperate battles in Smyrna, that are exquisitely beautiful. There is a lot of history and heartache to absorb. It brings that part of the world to life.
Despite my admiration for the novel, The Silence of Scheherazade didn’t fully win me over. It felt more like an account built to teach me history rather than a story in which I was fully immersed, but this is certainly only my experience and I have no doubt that this will be a much read and loved novel that has huge amounts to offer a wide readership. You’ll know if this sounds like your kind of novel.
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Initially, I loved this book. The writing was delightful.

However, I think this is a book that should be read in hard copy, as on Kindle it became rather hard to follow. As it went on, I got confused by what was happening when. Perhaps this was a fault of the editing, or even meant that there should have been clear date references in the chapter headings.

That said, the descriptions were vivid and the writing engaging. All it lacked was a little clarity.
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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.
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An epic read telling the great tragedy that befell Smyrna following the First World War. Smyrna was an ancient and multicultural hub of the Ottoman Empire, and at the start of the tale it is a city bustling with life and beauty, full of Levantine Europeans, Greek, Armenian, Jewish and Turkish, British and French communities, amongst many others. Some of the central characters are Edith and her mother Juliette Lamarck, whose family have lived in Smyrna since the 1700s and occupy a french colonial mansion in Bournabat; Avinash Pillai, an Indian Spy for the British Empire; Panagiota, a young girl from the Greek community full of dreams; and Scheherazade, a mute woman living in a Turkish household much later on in time, after Smyrna has become Izmir. One thing I liked about the novel was the various very different strands of characters from different communities, who were all more closely connected than we may have initially imagined. They showed the diversity of Smyrna and the events from different angles. 

The fall of Smyrna following the Greek Occupation after World War 1 was not something that I knew much about, but the events recounted in the novel were horrendous and this book does such a good job with this sensitive subject matter. The writing is evocative of a rich texture of smells, sights, and tastes throughout and is wonderfully atmospheric, so definitely one of the triumphs of the novel and a reason to read it! I did struggle with some clunky language at the outset and it took me a while to become invested, but then it really began to shine. This is a translated novel from Turkish. 

I would recommend this for fans of The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper, as this reminded me a little bit of that from strong female characters and difficult historical situations.  

My thanks to #NetGalley and the publisher, Head of Zeus, for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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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.
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This is an educational, disturbing and very engaging novel set in Asia Minor in the first part of the 20th century.   The author is new to me but so also are the horrendous historical events depicted in the book. I knew very little indeed about the fairly recent history of this part of the world and am certainly now moved to read and find out more.
The reader is told the story from several different points of view with no one side being privileged.   While granting access to the harrowing history of Smyrna at the end of the Ottoman Empire the author also tells a compelling tale of chosen and changed identities, particularly through the eyes of Edith Lamarck (a proudly independent Levantine woman of French origin) and Panagiotta, a young Greek girl.
As a story I found these two characters convincing as each in her own way struggled with the paths their lives were meant to take.   As a piece of historical fiction I think the author did a superb job of presenting developing events through their eyes.   
Many of the scenes in the book are almost televisual in the telling, eg the contrasting scenes of joy at the arrival of the Turkish army and the awful scenes at the harbour as people desperately try to flee the burning city.
I did find the shifting timeline confusing at times but not to the extent that it interrupted my reading.
Thank you to the publisher via Net Galley for sending me a complimentary ARC of this title in return for an honest review.
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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. The narrative switches from first to third person and from the point of view of the different families .which is sometimes confusing ,but I did want to keep reading .
The horror of what happened when Ataturk’s army came to the city is fully described and sometimes difficult to read; I felt there were many  similarities with current events in the Middle East as people try to escape from war-torn countries ,which made the descriptions all the more realistic.
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC in return for an honest review which reflects my own opinion.
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I could to get into this at all. There were pages of descriptions to get through at the expense of story and character development. I gave up very early on, especially when I saw how long it was.
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Suman has created such an evocative, epic novel here that I barely know how to summarise my thoughts. I’ve only just finished reading and my mind is still reeling! I think it must be the inextricably linked amalgamation of cultures that ultimately sold this novel to me. The various perspectives are authentic and empathetic (though I agree with other reviews that certain aspects have been lost in translation, but this often goes with the territory…), and Suman’s rich narrative, with that perfect balance of fiction and history, swept me along.

I would definitely recommend the volume, especially to any fans of Elif Shafak (such as myself!), and I must thank NetGalley and Head of Zeus for the absolute privilege!
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I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was a really unique piece of historical fiction, which follows the intertwined stories of people living in Smyrna leading up to World War 1. I don't think I've ever read anything in a similar setting, so I was pretty stoked going into this.

Unfortunately, I did find the writing style a bit off putting. The language was beautiful, filled with vivid atmosphere, but from a technical standpoint it was lacking. I try not to be so pretentious that I let poor technique out weigh a good story, but I actually found this a bit hard to read. For example, a lot of the dialogue wasn't attributed to a speaker, creating a strong sense of talking head syndrome. This is possibly an issue with the translation, but it pulled me out of the story.
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Captivating. evocative and richly told.  This is a beautifully written book which transports you to Smyrna of 1905, and it really conjures to life the sights and scents in your mind - I found this totally immersive and an afascinating glimpse into a history I knew nothing of, before now.
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3.5 Stars

This is the story of Scheherazade and her once beloved city of Smyrna, during a time in history that seems to have been forgotten. The story centers on several key characters who at the beginning seem unconnected to each other. The first half of the book evolves slowly, building the complexity of each character. With beautifully written descriptions, the author brings the cosmopolitan city of Smyrna to life: the fragrant smells, the vibrant people, the winding neighborhoods, and the quay where so much of the city’s life and then death took place. 

The pacing is slower in the first part of the book and the translation seems to waver at some points. But half way through, the book finds its stride as the stories of the individuals we’ve been following begin to converge and their relationships become clear. With a brilliant plot twist, all that has been foreshadowed, all the details that have been carefully planted by the author, the pieces of Scheherazade’s tale fall into place. The pace quickens as the horrific events of September 1922 unfold into a dramatic and heartbreaking climax.

The chapters are not in chronological order and this worked well in the telling of this story. It feels as if Scheherazade is indeed telling us her tale, keeping us turning the pages. The final imagery of the burning city, of the lost souls of an ancient people expelled from their homes, is a chilling reminder to never forget the horrors of what happened in Smyrna in 1922. 

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for this ARC.
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This was just way to prosey for me. I can't stand when stories spend all their time describing settings and details. When a book goes on and on for pages about talking about a guy standing on a ship deck looking at the harbour I know it's not for me. Thanks anyway Netgalley!
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This family saga and historical fiction novel about the ottoman empire focuses on a time and place that has since been forgotten but  it’s worth revisiting.  I received this novel as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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