The Silence of Sehrazad – an interview with Defne Suman

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This book, The Silence of Sehrazad is one of the most moving and captivating books I read this year. It takes place in Smyrna and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to introduce it and its author to my dear readers.

Also, you can win a signed copy of the book (in Greek) – go to the end of the post for details!

Thank you for doing this interview with me! Let me do some background questions and then move on to the book… Where did you grow up? Do you think this affected your need to become a writer?

I grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul has always been a source for inspiration for writers and artists and it played a great role in my creative process too. I grew up in a very modern, secular family, which valued education and European enlightenment very much. Having this kind of a family background on one hand and sharing the city with other people who are religious and traditional helped me stretch my mind and expand my horizons.

Was being a writer your ambition or was it something you discovered later in life?

Since the day I learned writing I have been writing! More than ambition writing has been a need for me, like water, like food. When I don’t write I feel a bit sick and it is hard for me to think straight if I am not putting my ideas down on paper. However, despite all that as a child I have never thought that I would become an author. It was as recent as ten years ago that I began sharing my writings with people. That is when I first opened my blog in 2007.

What drew you to this particular time period that Silence of Sehrazad takes place?

I have always liked history. When I was in school recent history was my favorite topic.  But to tell you the truth I have never thought that I would write an entire book that is taking place in the early 20th century. However there was something in Smyrna- something magical and mysterious that kept calling me to pay attention to it. Then I started doing research and looking at photographs of old Smyrna and I realized what a big loss it was. So much beauty was destroyed, so many people, so much wealth and culture. It was a paradise where people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds managed to exist side by side. I wanted to connect with that loss and in order to do that first I had to construct that world with its characters- not historical heroes but everyday people like Panayota, Sumbul, Edith or Avinash.

How connected do you feel to the story of Sehrazad? Was there a real person/story that made you create her?

I feel very connected to Sehrazad’s story. I conducted a two year research while I was writing the book and every single day for two years- hours and hours I was in that world which I constructed. Looking back from today it feels like I actually lived in Smyrna and met all these people and was present during the fire and the city’s destruction. I totally feel that way! For Sehrazad, no, she was very unique. She “came” to me one day, all of a sudden! I had no reference points. She doesn’t remind me of anyone. A true original character of literature.

Was there a main idea, message or feeling you wanted to convey to your readers when telling this story?

I don’t start writing books with a message or a mission in my head. I am not an activist. I am an author. I serve for imagination. But later, after I finished the first draft, yes, I realized that I was writing this story for some reason. Like I said before- first to wake people up (this is more in Turkey) to the greatest loss of a once-upon-a-time beautiful town, Smyrna. In Turkey there is an “amnesia” for the pre-1922 Smyrna. Making nations forget things about the past is a political agenda of course and we –as Turkish people- were asked to forget what was in the place of Izmir before it became Izmir. I wanted to tell the untold story of a long forgotten town.


δάφνη σούμαν
Στο σιδηροδρομικό σταθμό δίπλα στο σπίτι της Εντίτ Λαμάρκ


δαφνη σουμαν
Στον παλιό σιδηροδρομικό σταθμό της Πούντας

Was it difficult for you to write an objective approach to events, having lived in Turkey and Greece?

It was painful! While doing research I had to read so many biased reports. Against Turks, against Greeks, against Levantines etc. etc. etc… I never wanted to point the finger to anyone. I don’t believe there is one single responsible party in disasters like in Smyrna. The end was inevitable like all ends. History does its job and people pay the price. Seeing the inevitability of pain, suffering and destruction was very painful. Many nights my Greek husband and I cried together while reading books of Dido Sotiriou or Yasar Kemal. Especially nowadays when history has again come to a similar place of violence and war, the pain is so evident that it is hard to close your eyes to the reality taking place outside of your window.

What was the hardest part in writing this particular book?

The whole process was very fulfilling for me. I truly enjoyed every part of it. Editing was difficult. Rereading everything and making sure there is consistency, poetry, historical and geographical accuracy. Some days just to find out one single detail – such as was there really an oxygen tube in the birthing room of Smyrna’s French hospital or how long does it take for Panayota to walk from the quay to her house- I spent hours of researching and writing e-mails to people who would know the answers.


I read that you are also very passionate about yoga. Do the two fields of your life clash or do they combine in harmony?

Yoga and writing feed each other a lot in my life. When I do my own yoga practice I feel like some creative gates open up. When creative gates open up I have a better sense of the universe and my belonging to it. That is how they feed one another. I can’t do without one or the other!


Do you read much and if so what are you reading at the moment?

Yes, I read a lot. I always read one or two books for research. I also read just for the pure pleasure of literature and I do that every day- no exceptions! Currently I am reading the Don Quixote of Cervantes. It is a great book!

Are you working on a new book?

YES! And it is a surprise! It has just been approved for publication and will be published in Greece and in Turkey in 2017!

Do you have any advice on our readers, many of which are aspiring writers?

Write! Everyday, everywhere write! Internet is great, blogging is great. Reach out to the reader. The reader is there waiting for you but do not be scared of the reader either. You are not supposed to please the reader. You are there to express your very very unique self! And trust the process. The process of writing. It may take you to the places you would never imagine! 🙂

Thank you Defne! I feel so inspired after reading this interview! What do you think my friends? It must have been such a difficult research process but trust me, the book is captivating, a wonderful story. And guess what?

One of our readers will win a signed copy!!! You just have to subscribe to our newsletter and then leave a message here. Of course, if you want you can show us some love by sharing the interview on your favorite social media Facebook or twitter 🙂

The winner will be announced on Monday, November 7!

Thank you all!

Xoxo Foteini



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