The Silence of Scheherazade

Now available in paperback in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

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.

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.

Other versions:

Croatian

Hena Com

Suman’s tale is at its heart about those small people living their daily lives within the city, loving each other and loving the land beneath them.
—Laurel Taylor, Asymptote

Dense with rich descriptions and interwoven narrative threads, much like a tapestry that overflows its loom… a magnificent and illuminating historical novel concerned with every day life in the diverse Ottoman Empire.
—Jeana Jorgensen, Foreword Reviews
Reading the book felt like turning a flower over in my hands.
—Jo Niederhoff, Manhattan Book Review
Scenes come alive with meticulous descriptions of the foods, aromas, sounds and sights that are aptly described. Intricate particulars of life during WWI make this book a great read.
—F.M. Deemyad, author of The Sky Worshipers
A beautiful and breathtaking read. This is a must read for historical fiction fans.
—Laura Patricia Rose
Told in luminous prose, The Silence of Scheherazade is a romance full of rich and memorable characters whose lives collided with a pivotal and tragic moment in history. The novel is a delight.
—Lou Ureneck, author of Smyrna, September 1922
When Smyrna was reduced to ashes in September 1922, the world lost one of its most beautifully cosmopolitan cities. [It is] brought back to life in all its glory in this rich tale of love and loss, giving voice to the silenced, and music to their histories.
—Maureen Freely, chair of PEN, UK

This novel of Old Izmir and the Great Fire of Smyrna is a must-read!
—Ayşe Arman, Hürriyet

Defne Suman is a story-teller. She tells the story of how history inevitably determines our personalities, destinies and lives. She tells the story of how love, emotions and identities are influenced by socio-political events of a lifetime.
—Oya Baydar, Cumhuriyet
I am honored to be a part of the publication of Defne’s book, which portrays the bonds of humanity and love between faiths, nations, ethnic minorities, in English.
—Betsy Göksel, translator

Silence of Scheherazade is a wonderful, social and historical novel, with delicate touches of love, and realistic moments of a daily life that was lost forever.
—Panos Tourlis, Books and Style

What a good novel The Silence of Scheherazade is… It reminds me the darkness in Joyce’s Dubliners and the works of Louis de Bernieres.
—Leyla Çapan, author

A symphony of literature.
—Professor Mete Tapan

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Excerpt

The horse, scattering fire, moved towards the sea. The people on the quay cried out and raised their arms in alarm. The girl ran after it. The flames had spread to her arms and hands; to her hair and her shawl. She did not notice. Hilmi Rahmi spurred his horse forward. Everyone turned and stared at the cavalry officer galloping towards the girl.

She flew over an old man lying on the ground. With scorched hands, she gathered her burning skirts. Her legs were festering wounds. The soldier’s eyes shone as if lit by electricity. People moved aside. The girl lifted her bare, bloodied foot and leapt into the darkness, ready to join her beloved horse, already deep in the murky water.

Everyone watched as the girl hung in the air like a bird of fire, suspended over the ghastly sea.

And then, through the gloom, an arm reached out. The bird of fire was caught mid-air. Paying no mind to the flames which leapt at his skin from the waist he’d grasped, Hilmi Rahmi threw Panagiota across the back of his horse. The animal whinnied and tried to buck the flaming creature off his back. Panagiota screamed with all her strength. ‘Ohi!

The crowd closed their eyes.

This is an extract from one of final stages of the story, when the flames of the Great Fire of Smyrna is eating the city and hundreds of thousands of Greek refugees are trapped between the fire and the dark waters of the sea at the quay of Smyrna.

Full Praise

“Perhaps the most important character of all, however, is Smyrna itself. A port city at the crossroads of multiple intersecting languages, cultures, religions, and countries, Suman deftly paints a picture of a city which endures occupation after occupation, a quiescent powder keg inching closer and closer to the flame with each influx of new political superpowers. Yet through all the grim shadows of war, violent modernization, and conquest which dance across the pages, Suman’s tale is at its heart about those small people living their daily lives within the city, loving each other and the land beneath them.”
—Laurel Taylor, Asymptote

“Dense with rich descriptions and interwoven narrative threads, much like a tapestry that overflows its loom, the novel includes beautiful moments alongside tragic ones. The Silence of Scheherazade is a magnificent and illuminating historical novel concerned with every day life in the diverse Ottoman Empire.”
—Jeana Jorgensen, Foreword Reviews

The Silence of Scheherazade reminded me, when I started reading it, of One Hundred Years of Solitud, easily one of my favorite books. Though the two are markedly different in setting, theme, and tone, something about the structure of the books made me keep comparing them. Reading the book felt like turning a flower over in my hands.”
—Jo Niederhoff, Manhattan Book Review

“Attention to detail makes Defne Suman’s novel, The Silence of Scheherazade a joy to read. Scenes come alive with meticulous descriptions of the foods, aromas, sounds and sights that are aptly described. Intricate particulars of life during WWI make this book a great read. Descriptions are breathtakingly vivid, and the novel carries you from the onset to an exotic world during a tumultuous time.”
—F.M. Deemyad, author of The Sky Worshipers, History Through Fiction blog

“A beautiful and breathtaking read. This is a must read for historical fiction fans.”
Laura Patricia Rose

“Defne Suman has crafted a wonderfully braided story of family secrets set in the magical city of Smyrna. Told in luminous prose, The Silence of Scheherazade is a romance full of rich and memorable characters whose lives collided with a pivotal and tragic moment in history. The novel is a delight.”
—Lou Ureneck, author of Smyrna, September 1922

“When Smyrna was reduced to ashes in September 1922, the world lost one of its most beautifully cosmopolitan cities. Defne Suman and Betsy Goksel have brought it back to life in all its glory in this rich tale of love and loss, giving voice to the silenced, and music to their histories.”
—Maureen Freely, Chair of PEN, UK

“Suman is a very radiant, enlightened and creative woman. This novel of Old Izmir and the Great Fire of Smyrna is a must-read! It helps us to better understand the dark days we are experiencing now. It establishes a parallel with today and opens the door to our asking ourselves this question: Are we living at this moment (as one of the main characters in the novel says) on ‘borrowed time’ as well?”
—Ayşe Arman, Hürriyet Newspaper (Turkey)

“The novel tells the story of three women who live in the center of Izmir. It is the story of our city. These women live in Izmir with their loves, their hopes, their pains, and their joys. Their fate is gathered in the silence of a fourth woman character. Her silence is the silence of all of us. The Silence of Scheherazade. A novel of confrontation. A good opportunity to begin confronting, facing the history with courage.”
—Yılmaz Murat Bilican, T24 Newspaper (Turkey)

“Defne Suman is a ‘story-teller’. She tells the story of how history inevitably determines our personalities, destinies and lives. She tells the story of how love, emotions and identities are influenced by socio-political events of a lifetime.”
—Oya Baydar, Cumhuriyet Newspaper

“Translating The Silence Of Scheherazade was a heart-wrenching experience. I was bringing to life in English real people, not characters in a book, people I loved and wept over. In this book one weeps for the various individuals and for Smyrna itself. In addition to the men and women of various ethnicities there is also the historical tragedy unfolding on the pages, this tragedy followed by the silence of a nation as well as of Scheherazade. I am honored to be a part of the publication of Defne’s book, which portrays the bonds of humanity and love between faiths, nations, ethnic minorities, in English. A translation can never fully live up to the beauty of a novel, but hopefully I have been faithful enough to her talent to endear this novel to English readers all over the world.”
—Betsy Göksel, translator

Silence of Scheherazade is a wonderful, social and historical novel, with delicate touches of love and realistic moments of a daily life that was lost forever, while the writing of the story is unique and well-studied to bring emotions and surprises while at the same time” embraces” with affection and sincerity all aspects of the black September of 1922. A big congratulations to the author Defne Suman, for the way she managed to present these damn moments and their subsequent consequences with extreme objectivity!”
—Panos Tourlis, Books and Style Magazine (Greece)

“I read Silence of Scheherazade feeling true love. It is not only a beautiful story but also sections from Turkish history. On the one hand I was reading a love story that I was lost inside and on the other I was thinking about one cliché that we all memorised as school children in Turkey: ‘Throwing the enemy into the sea.’ This cliché was mentioned in our schools and historical records with such pride… As I was reading this book I realized that some historical facts that we had learned at school are so devoid of emotions and they are stories of cruelty. No matter how cruel the history is, Silence of Scheherazade wraps you in its arms and takes you through an exciting journey in its pages. Each scene was like a snapshot from a movie… I hope to see it soon in the cinema.”
—Journalist Evrim Sümer

“What a good novel is Silence of Scheherazade. Its quality is not just coming from it being about Smyrna, or Greek occupation or the different ethnicities living side by side. All of the places in the novel are vivid; all of the characters are so real. It is obviously written by a pen who knows the human psyche so well. Reading this novel is like taking a long journey, a journey that lasts many years. We can enter the inner worlds of the characters and witness their problems, joys and sorrow. At the same time we are seeing various scenes of coexistence. Nights and days, balconies and winding roads, dark clouds passing by. It reminds us the darkness in Joyce’s Dubliners and the works of Louis de Bernieres. It is so deep; it is so rich.”
—Author Leyla Çapan

“Suman’s novel examines the conflict between a pluralistic notion of selfhood and a monolithically constructed national identity. The paradigms of exile and displacement, of speaking from minority positions, are intertwined with the above-mentioned themes. Altogether, these premises establish a narrative network of signification, through which the philosophical core of Suman’s work can be discerned.”
—Professor Ülker Gökberk, Professor of Humanities Reed College, Portland Oregon (USA)

Silence of Scheherazade, among many other things, is a story of human dignity. A value that we are so close to losing at our current time. The book reminds us the value of human life, regardless of whose life it is. Any life is worth saving and it means a world to the one who is living it. Defne Suman brings lightness to the hearts of her readers even when she is writing about one of the darkest losses of history. It is because she reaches out to the depths of our psyche and grabs us from our very existence: our connection to one another.”
—Yaprak Çetinkaya, Pozitif Magazine (Turkey)

Silence of Scheherazade… A symphony of literature.”
—Professor Mete Tapan, Açık Radyo interview (Turkey)

Setting the Scene

Visual Portfolio, Posts & Image Gallery for WordPress

Kuleli kiosk (Illustrator George Poulimenos)

Courtesy of the Levantine Heritage Foundation

Courtesy of the Levantine Heritage Foundation

Courtesy of the Levantine Heritage Foundation

Courtesy of the Levantine Heritage Foundation

Smyrna Postcard

Smyrna Postcard

Smyrna Map (Illustrator George Poulimenos)

Smyrna Postcard

Smyrna Postcard