At the Breakfast Table

Written by Betsy Göksel (trans.) Defne Suman
Review by Edward James

Defne Suman is the author of The Silence of Scheherazade, a powerful story about the last days of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the Turkish Republic. If you have read it you may find her second book rather tame by comparison. In 2017, a large and wealthy Turkish family gathers at a villa on an island near Istanbul to celebrate the 100th birthday of its oldest member, a once-fashionable woman artist. A well-known journalist (who happens to be the granddaughter’s lover) is invited to interview her.  We are promised that he will uncover some explosive family secrets.

There are indeed such secrets which date back to WW1 and the massacre of the Pontic Greeks but they are a long time coming, and in the meantime the reader must navigate a series of long reminiscences and digressions that are only tangentially related to the central secret. As in her earlier book, Suman uses multiple narrators and a defiantly non-linear narrative.  It is cleverly done but demands a lot of the reader.

The story is set on a beautiful holiday island whose ambience is expertly conveyed.