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The Silence of Scheherazade


Defne Suman

Rating: *****

Set in Smyrna during the first half of the twentieth century, The Silence of Scheherazade weaves together the lives, loves and losses of four families against the brutal backdrop of the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

The Silence of Scheherazade is a beautiful, rich tapestry of a novel that is thoroughly absorbing. However, it is not without flaws. Personally, I would have preferred a more linear narrative, the ambitious structure does become rewarding from the last third of the novel, but is a touch frustrating in the beginning and, in places, the story becomes a little too clever and threatens to confuse.

Notwithstanding, the sheer, involving beauty of the prose and intricate depth of the stories make for a compelling combination that is hard to put down, and the switch from third person perspective to first person for Scheherazade was inspired, giving a sense of direct intimacy with the reader. The sly hints at the end of every chapter which enable a few more pieces of the puzzle to fit together also contribute to The Silence of Scheherazade being hard to put down.

There is a large cast in the novel but all are wonderfully depicted, complex and individual characters, and when all their interests begin to slowly converge, around a quarter of the way through, it makes for a fascinating read. The relationships in the story are intertwined on many levels and involve different classes, cultures and backgrounds. Yet the chemistry between all couples vibrates convincingly with sexual tension and fatality. Damaged and aloof, Edith Lamarck manages to be both loathsome and pitiful, and the subtle developments in the portrayal of Panagiota are astutely observed.

Undoubtedly, the star of the book is the ancient city of Smyrna. Its people, culture and history are brought so vividly to life with the sensory nature and detail of the descriptive imagery. It’s an excellent reconstruction of a historical period and completely immersive. In Part V, Paradise Lost, the retelling of the massacre is told without judgement or excitement but in comprehensive, measured prose that is unflinching and lends an almost overwhelming visual realism to the passages.

The first half of September is integral to the novel for different reasons, and the recurring motif of early Autumn with its dying orange warmth, and earthy tones is skilfully used to enhance the decay of Smyrna, while intensifying the flames as the City burns.

The Silence of Scheherazade is a sumptuous gem of a novel that deserves to be a classic. Highly recommended.

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