I was born one cold November night. The snowflakes swirled hurriedly for most of the day and, by nightfall, everything was covered in white.'

From the safety of old age, Ané, the daughter of Sultan Mahmut II, begins unfolding her life story at the prompting of her inquisitive granddaughter, Mihrişah. Living in Istanbul in the early part of the nineteenth century, her young eyes have seen a world of opulence and hatred, love and murder. Her sheltered life is permeated by jealousy, rich foods and aromas, secret languages, opulent colours and the daunting presence of the chief black eunuch. A dream-life to all who don't live it; a nightmarish existence to those that do. The deep love of her mother, Muazzez, is the only strength she has, but that will not last.

Encompassing four generations, this story is a narrative within a narrative, a tale of the tremendous reserves of endurance, strength and fierceness that a mother will invoke to protect that which she cherishes the most. Set amidst lavish, spectacular and evocative backdrops, the book chronicles Ané's character being tested time and again – and emerging vibrant.


You can also read a sample of the book below:






       Island of Pringipos, Sea of Marmara, Autumn 1898


‘I was born one cold November night. The snowflakes swirled hurriedly for most of the day and by nightfall, everything was covered in white. The North wind howled through the palace rooms like a demon anxious for a sacrifice. It lashed out at whoever crossed its path, slashing at their faces and arms like a metallic whip. It was cold, you see, too cold for November. Unusually cold.’

       My grandmother Safyie momentarily closed her eyelids.

     ‘Are you going to tell me about your life?’ I whispered. ‘Are you finally going to tell me?’ I could scarcely dare to hope; I’d waited almost eighteen years for this.

      She cleared her throat, pulled her black, woollen shawl tighter round her curved shoulders and blinked briefly. A slight shudder ran through her body.

      ‘I can no longer look at you without feeling the weight of the burden I carry.’

     ‘What burden, Ané?’

     ‘And I can no longer ignore her stare.’

     ‘Whose stare? Whose stare can’t you ignore?’

     ‘My mother’s,’ she said, and her voice broke off.

     I stared at my grandmother unable to understand what she was telling me. She had never spoken of her mother to me before, and whenever I’d asked, she had avoided my questions. So what had possessed her now?

     ‘Your mother?’

     My grandmother glanced towards the balcony door, then looked down at her hands.

     ‘She has been coming to me for months now.’

     ‘Coming to you? What do you mean, Ané?’

     ‘Her spirit. She stays with me, stands a few steps away and watches me in silence, keeps me company. I’ve missed her so much, Mihrişah, so much, but her presence has made me remember everything I have tried to forget all these years. Her visits have become more frequent and her gaze more persistent, and I know she’s here to make me remember. But remembering is the heaviest burden to carry.’

     ‘Please, Ané, I don’t understand? Is your mother here now? Why can’t I see her?’

      My grandmother nodded and pointed towards the balcony door.

     ‘She’s there, right there, and there’s an urgent look on her face. This burden’s unbearable. But I must tell you. I must finally release it. I have no choice. The more I hold it in, the more I feel it’s killing me. If I die without telling you, then I will have erased everything that ever meant anything to me. My soul could never be at peace. And would have nothing, no roots, no knowledge. Nothing.’

     ‘Please don’t talk like that, Ané. You’re not going anywhere.’

     ‘Ah, my Mihrişah,’ she said, and glanced towards the window one more time.

    The sun was pale. The trees in front of our house swayed back and forth, dancing to their own unheard rhythms. Autumn rushed towards us in gigantic strides, billowing the lace curtains with its hurried breath.

     I followed her glance and caught a wisp of light on the wooden floor which was quickly swallowed up by a passing cloud. I shivered.

     ‘I wish I could spare you the pain of telling you this. I wish I could spare myself the pain of remembering. But it is the right thing to do. I have to do it for her. And not only her.’ Her eyes met mine for a fraction of a moment. ‘Yet in telling you, I risk losing everything.’

     ‘I still don’t understand,’ I said, glancing around me. A strange cold crept up my body making me uneasy, nervous. I rubbed my palms on my dress; they felt clammy.

     My grandmother smiled and patted the blue pillow closest to her on the divan, depressing its centre with her hand, the velvet so worn it was as smooth as an aubergine.

     ‘Just sit by me a while,’ she murmured, and poured apple tea into her small hourglass-shaped tea cup; she stirred a spoonful of honey with a small spoon, raised it to her puckered lips and sipped.

     ‘What is it, Ané,’ I coaxed her.

     I could see her struggling to tell me. Her eyes looked wild. My grandmother placed her tea cup down and took hold of my hand. It was frozen and dry, frailer than usual.

     ‘You call me Ané; you call me ‘mother’. Yet what do you really know about me, Mihrişah?’ She shook her head before I had time to answer.

     And the truth was, what did I really know about her? I knew she was my grandmother, that she had arrived on the island of Pringipos years earlier with her daughter, Ayesha, my mother, and had lived with the Greek Orthodox nuns up on the hill. I also knew that the hamam she owned was hers, and this was quite unusual. She worked hard every day, although she had two younger girls working for her now, and she had never been ill – at least, I had never noticed her being ill. I had been born on the island and my mother had died giving birth to me. For seventeen years, almost eighteen, this is all I knew.  I had never left the island, had never gone to the big city, or Stamboul, as my grandmother called Constantinople, not even for a day.

     In the past, when I was younger, I would ask her questions, especially about my mother. What was she like? What was her favourite food? Did she talk much, was she pretty, what colour were her eyes? I would ask her questions like these all the time. But she’d never answer. She would only smile, a withdrawn internal smile making her look more sad than happy, and would answer the same thing, “All in good time, my little Mihrişah. You will know everything when the time is right.”

     This always left me wanting. I couldn’t understand her secrecy and unwillingness to tell me anything at all about her own life or even my own mother’s; especially my own mother’s.

       I stopped asking as I grew older. But the questions remained, and with each year that they stayed thus unanswered, I felt them grow larger, like huge chasms between mountains. The answers to the questions I had, haunted me, like the black, menacing waves in the sea during winter. I’d make up scenarios in my mind, would imagine my grandmother telling me everything I’d ever wanted to know. But come nightfall, I would climb into bed a little bit more cheated, and the disillusionment would colour my dreams, making them dark and murky as if they’d been smeared by blue-black ink.

     My grandmother’s voice jolted me out of my thoughts.

    ‘I notice you looking at me sometimes. You have too many questions in your youthful eyes. Your eyelashes gather together like an oncoming storm, your nose trembles. I have seen this and sense your disappointment when you realise I will not tell you anything more than you already know, nothing more than pieces, never the whole. But the time has come to tell you that which you long to hear, to complete the mosaic, to hand you your roots.’

     She paused, fingered the gold-gilded rim of the glass with her thumb.

     ‘And I hope that you will be able to forgive me once you’ve heard everything.’

     ‘Forgive you? Why should I forgive you? What have you done?’ My voice evaporate into the air. 

     ‘Hear me out, Mihrişah. Please, hear me out. Then you can decide whether there is anything to forgive, or not.’

       She held my gaze with her piercing black eyes, and I nodded in silence.

      ‘This may sound like a tale but it isn’t. It’s my life woven into a tapestry of words, although I should more rightly say that this is not only about me.’ She smiled, took another sip of her tea. ‘This is also about you, Mihrişah.’

       ‘About me?’

      ‘Yes, don’t look so surprised. This secret belongs to you, too. Only you can be its keeper. No one else must ever know other than your daughter, when the Almighty Allah blesses you with one. So remember every detail well. Memorise it. Scratch it into your skin. Do whatever it takes for you to never forget. Do you understand?’

      Once again I nodded, but I must admit I didn’t understand anything. I was scared, feared what I’d hear, yet wouldn’t have stopped my grandmother from telling me. Her creased brow relaxed as she closed her eyes.

     ‘Good. Now, where was I? I had just told you about how cold it was when I was born. Nobody could warm up that night. The old women present at my birth thought it was a bad omen. They said that a child born on a day like this would be full of woe, that it would bring bad luck.’