The Silence of Scheherazade

Written by Betsy Göksel (trans.) Defne Suman
Review by India Edghill

My birth, on a sweet, orange-tinted evening… in 1905 Smyrna, Turkey, begins an enchanting tale of mother and daughter, of a time and place forever lost. Set in the years before the great disaster that nearly destroyed the city, the novel chronicles the tales of an opium-addicted mother and her silent daughter. The lives of mother and daughter weave together to produce a luxurious tapestry of words.

Beginning with “Scheherazade’s” birth to a mother zoned out of her mind on opium, on a day that coincides with the arrival in Smyrna of that mother’s true love, we follow various denizens of that beautiful, cosmopolitan city as they live through idyllic days, dancing in and out of each other’s lives yet only rarely interacting. Scheherazade, the silent narrator, reveals hopes, dreams, and longings in a city where everything seems possible. But politics eventually sweeps over Smyrna, ending in a day of fire and blood that sees lives and beauty destroyed… for the moment…

This is a truly beautiful book. Exquisite language is plied with great skill to create gorgeous imagery. And the translator is an absolute genius. While the plot’s a bit of a tangle, and it’s literary fiction rather than historical fiction—for example, I didn’t feel that this story could only have taken place in early 1900s Smyrna, and found the political details very hazy—reading this book is like eating an ivory-inlaid box of Turkish delight. Once started on it, you just can’t stop.