Friday, September 17, 2021

Defne Suman Interview - The Silence of Scheherazade

Photo Content from Defne Suman 

Defne Suman was born in Istanbul and grew up on Prinkipo Island. She gained a Masters in sociology from the Bosphorus University and then worked as a teacher in Thailand and Laos, where she studied Far Eastern philosophy and mystic disciplines. She later continued her studies in Oregon, USA and now lives in Athens with her husband. The Silence of Scheherazade, translated from Turkish by Betsy Göksel, was first published in Turkey and Greece in 2016 and is her English language debut.


Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
I think it is only when we tell the story of something, anything, we understand the meaning of it. When we are in the midst of living, the experience is cloudy, the picture is flu. We need to take distance (in time) to realize what we went through. Storytelling gives us this perspective. We take a step away from our turbulent selves and only then we can weave a meaningful narrative about life. Storytelling is important to stay sane in an incredibly crazy world.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Connecting with the readers! Some authors say that they don’t think about the reader as they write. That is not the case for me. I don’t worry about if they’d like my story or not, but I’d like to imagine my readers entering the world of fiction that is created by me. Somehow it is like being able invite someone into your dream. A space that is alive in only my imagination suddenly becomes a familiar place for people who read my books. Chatting with my readers about the characters, inevitability of fate and about the process of writing the book are some of the most fulfilling experiences for me.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Housework! Whenever I tried to write at home, I heard the faint call of some domestic chore either from the kitchen cabinets (tidy us!) or from the laundry room (we are done!) that asked me to stop writing and pay attention to the house. This entire book I wrote outside. In coffeeshops.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I am working on a book on Istanbul. To narrow it down I can say it is about the destruction of Istanbul. In a broad sense it is the sad and inevitable disappearance of anything refined and deep from our lives and from our public spaces. The story is taking place in 2020, during the times of Covid19 but reaching all the way to the 1950’s thanks to our 75-year-old narrator. I am at the very beginning of this book. I wrote only 10% of it. So it is my current and future project! What comes after that I have no idea.

Can you tell us when you started THE SILENCE OF SCHEHERAZADE, how that came about?
I started writing The Silence of Scheherazade exactly seven years ago, after a traumatic miscarriage after which I poured all my creative energy into my writing, into writing The Silence of Scheherazade. No wonder the story opens with a birth scene our narrator, Scheherazade. Around the same time, I became curious about the stories of my ancestors and started interviewing older family members about their grandparents. I was shocked by how much I did not know about people with whom I spent my childhood with. That discovery led me to think about the silences we create in our families and secrets that go to grave with us. When I looked closely, I noticed that the stories of men are widely recounted in the family, but the things women experienced were silenced. The silence around unresolved loss was my starting point. I started from the pieces that were carefully extracted from official history of a family or of a nation.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
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. I hope that when readers are turning the pages of The Silence of Scheherazade, they realise that they are not only taking a stroll through the past, but they are reading a story that is happening right now, right here in the present-day.

What part of your characters did you enjoy writing the most?
I like writing ball scenes. The idea of reserving a chapter for the New Year’s Ball was on my mind from the very beginning. Initially I planned to bring all my characters to the ball. Some as guests, some as help and some as teenagers who spy on the rich neighbors’ party from the windows. I believe that a fictive character becomes a character only in relationship. It is the same for us. I can talk about myself until the cows come home but the best impression you can get about me is when I am interacting with the world. Therefore, I enjoy writing chapters when most of my characters are together in one space; chatting, dancing, going into conflict with one another. Also I very much like reading party scenes in novels. Glorious ball scenes that we know from Anna Karenina, or from War and Peace and of course from The Great Gatsby were in my mind as I was writing the chapter named “Borrowed Time”.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would introduce Edith Lamarck to Anna Karenina. In their unique, individual selves they could have been good friends and understand each other. Anna would have taken Edith’s loneliness away and Edith could have helped Anna to remember her inner strength. They could have helped each other and maybe prevented the self-destructive ends of their lives.

Tell me about a favorite event of your childhood.
I was an only child and a very lonely child. We lived in a high-rise building at the center of Istanbul and both my parents worked all day. I was alone in my room most of the day with a babysitter or with my great-aunt. I dreamt of having a twin sister. Then I took the dream to the next level and told everyone at school that I did have a twin sister, but we were separated at birth. Then one day when I was ten years old my mother introduced me to the daughter of a friend of hers. She was my age, and looked a lot like me. She too was lonely and when we went for ice-cream, the shop owner asked us if we were sisters. Before I was able to answer she jumped in said “Yes we are. We are actually twins!” She is my best friend ever since.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
If I am going to FaceTime with my mom today and if she is going to like my face or if she will think I look too tired!

Best date you've ever had?
When social media became part of our lives for the first time in 2007, my first boyfriend from high school found me and we decided to have dinner. In high school I was madly in love with this boy, but he was not that into me. In 2007 we were both 33 and we were both single. We knew each other so well from our childhood and we were open to anything or nothing. It was late autumn and a chilly night in Istanbul. We walked by the dark waters of Bosphorus channel hand in hand, drank cognac in a romantic bar and then went to eat fish in a Greek taverna under a bridge. Everything I had dreamed as a young girl, I experienced that night. At the end of the night, he took me home. We said goodbye and never saw each other again.

What was the first job you had?
I worked at the Cumhuriyet (Republic) newspaper in Istanbul as an intern in the summer of 1993. Back then I wanted to be a journalist passionately. After that summer I changed my mind. Cumhuriyet was a progressive, leftwing newspaper but people who worked there were not very respectful of the young interns, especially young women. I was discouraged and decided to write books instead of news.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
After I finished university in Istanbul, I was admitted to a PhD program at UCLA. It was a very good offer including 8-year scholarship at the department of social anthropology. All my professors and everyone in my family was excited and proud. I was hesitant. I knew that that was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but my heart was somewhere else and I didn’t even know where it was. Finally, I turned down the scholarship and headed for South East Asia with a backpack. There I started learning traditional Hatha Yoga and it changed my life completely.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
My father used to have contraption that allowed him to go upside down. He believed that his hair was going to come back if he stays upside down every day for sometime. When I went to visit him, I used to find him hanging upside down in midair and we were involved in small talk in that position. This was one of the weirdest scenes I have ever partaken.

First Heartbreak?
The same guy that I mentioned above. The first of a series of break ups to come for the next 3 years, happened when I was 14. I stayed in bed with high fever for the whole weekend.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Of course the heart break! I am a novelist.

Where can readers find you?
At the coffeeshops in Athens, in Istanbul, in Portland Oregon or by the sea in some Greek island, Oregon coast or Prinkipo hills…. Until the coffeeshops are open again, I am here, at the other end of their online connection. 

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.

You can purchase The Silence of Scheherazade at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you DEFNE SUMAN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman.


  1. Simple. I would make the effort to visit family more often. "That day" comes sooner than you think.

  2. "If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?" The invention of the computer, because it's just speeding up the end of humanity and destroying all privacy in the process.

  3. I'd make sure Hitler was.. well, aborted.