Publishing Day Speech
Today is the big day! My English debut novel The Silence of Scheherazade is out in the UK (in a month time it will be available in the US) and I have so much to say for this huge step in my life.
I started writing The Silence of Scheherazade exactly seven years ago after a traumatic miscarriage. Even though doctors and dear friends kept telling me that I was still young and could get pregnant again, deep down I knew I was not going to. So, I poured all my creative energy into my writing, into writing The Silence of Scheherazade. No wonder the story opens with a birth scene! Not just any birth but the birth of our narrator, of Scheherazade. She is not just any narrator but THE narrator of the tales, she is the one who should continue telling stories in order to stay alive. For those of who grew up in the Mediterranean coast and in the Middle East she is a familiar voice, the Scheherazade of the 1001 Nights.
My Scheherazade however is a mute one. Thus, the title The Silence of Scheherazade. In my post miscarriage days of grief I wanted to give voice to those whose history was silenced by politics, governments and by the ones who hold the positions of power such as official history makers. I wanted to tell the story of the women and children of Smyrna in 1922. To break the silence of HIStory.
Both Turkish and Greek history books talk about what happened in September 1922. The narratives of the ones who had won the war and the ones who lost it weave the two opposing ends of the same history but neither tells a story but just his-story. Women of Smyrna in September 1922, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, Greeks, Armenians, Levantines and Turks all lost their beautiful town to the flames. After burning one week continuously, once the Great Fire of Smyrna was finally put down, what was left was just the ruins and the ghost of a once rich, joyful, cosmopolitan city.
I dedicated this book to those who have been exiled from their homeland. I put Greek poet Seferis’ poem Jasmine on the first page knowing that Seferis was a refugee from Smyrna himself.
The Silence of Scheherazade is a story of losing home. I find it auspiciously meaningful that the release date of its English debut coincides with these very days of history when the refugee crisis in the world is at its peak. As my book is about to reach its global readers everywhere on the planet, people are being uprooted from their homeland and forced to move to foreign places away from home.
The refugee crises that we are facing today have started late 19th century, continued throughout the 20th century, and is now peaking in the first quarter of the 21st century. My grandparents from both sides were uprooted from their homelands because of war and ethnic cleansing policies of the countries that they had lived and loved as their own once upon a time. They ended up in Turkey and started from the very beginning in a new land where nothing was familiar. They were not necessarily welcome in their new home, and I can easily presume by looking at the way in which refugees are treated in today’s Turkey that in my great grandparents’ time as well there was an expectation for them to return to where they came from once the war was over. Yet there was nowhere to return to.
Having carried these stories of my ancestors in my genes and in my consciousness combined with the loss of a potential life that I carried inside my body led me to formulate the story of The Silence of Scheherazade in such a way that the readers can immerse themselves in Smyrna and get to know the characters as they know some family members or friends. In order to recreate a lost time and space I needed a lot of details. Street names, maps, political climate, newspapers, fashion magazines, diaries as well how it smelled there and what colour was the sky when the sunset and how strong really was the famous Smyrna wind (imbat in Turkish and meltemi in Greek). Because when you must flee from your hometown, when you are forced to leave your country or if you are kicked out of your land what you are to leave behind is much more than your home and your possessions.
I hope that when the readers are turning the pages of The Silence of Scheherazade, they realise that they are not only taking a stroll in the past but they are reading a story that is happening right now, right here in the present day world of ours.
One final word about saving lives: Every day we are seeing thousands of lives in danger. Women and children suffering under the rule of totalitarian regimes, ethnic/ religious minorities under the threat of massacrers, Covid19, animals trapped in the wildfires, fish poisoned by the toxic waste… It is overwhelming to think of the many lives are being wasted with every second. It is so overwhelming that we might feel the need to shut down and disconnect from the rest of the world. But the other side of the coin is that we can save lives. Maybe not so many but most of us can save a life. One life. It might not make a big change in the world, but as Turkish colonel Hilmi Rahmi says to himself in The Silence of Scheherazade, that life is worth a world to the one who is living it.
I am thrilled that my The Silence of Scheherazade will reach to distant corners of the world and I hope it will help to break the silence and the silenced people one by one.
Special thanks to my publisher Head of Zeus and Kalem Literature Agency, to my lovely translator Betsy Göksel who cried over the pages which she translated because she was so touched by the story, to my Turkish publisher Doğan Kitap, to my Smyrna guru and dear friend George Poulimenos and to all my readers around the globe. If half of this book is written by me, the other half will find life in your imagination.
Defne Suman 19 August 2021