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Love Story About Conquerors

by duda (10/16/2006)

Love Story About Conquerors

It was just before the New Year's eve, we were preparing to welcome 2003. A fir-tree and several hardly bought presents for children. Economical crisis had been lingering for more than ten years, so we spent our last money for the fir-tree and presents. And in ten days there would be our anniversary, my husband's and mine. In all those years, we had been trying to forget the world about us. I had got used to very special presents: little carved wooden boxes (made by my husband); nice cherrywood cigarette-holders (made by my husband), beautiful poems (written by my husband). I wrote poems for him. And in some other occasions, we would go out and walk at evenings, looking into the shop-windows and "buying". You understand, we were just choosing what would we like to buy to each other if we had money. But this time I wanted to give him something more.


You know, it was very cold that winter. We had no money to warm up the whole flat, so we were using only the kitchen and one bedroom. The other room was cold. Not cold, freezing. My PC was there (don't ask what that PC was like... I think it was antique even then!) for we didn't have where else to put it. So, being a copy-editor, I worked in my violet pelerine, which perfectly matched the colour of my fingers in that cold room. But the room was perfect for secrets, for no one else entered there.


I sat down and started to write a story.


Oh, an old theme it was! For those who don't know, my country had been a province of Ottoman Empire for almost 5 centuries. There were many books written about those times: some of them just sentimental stories, and the greatest part about sufferings under our invaders. One – and the one – nobelist from my country got his Nobel Prize writing about Turkish times. Nothing new. In fact, I chose the motife by chance. I wanted to write a story about art and love, so I put the things this way:


  1. My hero must deal with a kind of art
  2. My hero must have many obstacles to express himself/herself
  3. My hero must be in love, but desperately – with no hope to achieve his/her wish
  4. My hero must decide between love and arts, and he/she will choose love





  1. According to 2,. and 3., my hero must be a woman. She will be an embroideress.
  2. My heroine will live in the worst times of our history – during the Turkish government. Haphazardly, I chose the beginning of 18th century.
  3. My heroine will fall in love with some Turkish bey – different nations, different religions, different social status.
  4. Between arts and love, my heroine will choose...?


I know it seems easy now!


On our anniversary day (January 9th), I had finished the sixth chapter, and the end was not even close. I called my husband to my cold room and said: "Sit down and read. This was supposed to be your present, but it is not finished yet. If you like your present, I will finish it. If not, just delete it." And he started to read.


It was cold, very cold, really, when he finished. He was silent for some time, then he said:


"This will be a novel."


He moved our kitchen table to the side wall. He brought my antique PC and put it there (oh, it was warm!). He and the children used chairs instead of table. He cooked. He was finding and bringing me history books. He listened the chapters I had written. He was sitting and discussing with me till the dawn. He was giving me advices. He comforted me when I was crying, for I thought I'd never finish it. He laughed when I told him that I fell in love with my Turkish bey.


It was warm in our kitchen that winter.


I had to find many information. About clothes. Land-taxes. Private Turkish homes. Political events. Relationships betweeen conqueres and the conquered. Relationships between Turkey and European states, especially its ally, France. Turkish art. And Turkish art, again. In front of me, in front of my dazzled eyes, there started to loom up an amazing picture of undreamt-of history. My conquerors, my invaders, my wild agressors from the East... they were noblemen, some of them just arrived from Istanbul and French schools and universities... They loved tulips, they loved poetry, they loved arts... And that strange, so crazy, so noble, so tragic Dammat Ibrahim-pasha, the sadrazam of Ahmet III, who was in love with paintings, who opened so many libraries in Istanbul, who brought new architecture to the capital, along with exotic trees from faraway countries, who tried to make a new Paris out of it... Turkish beys in my own country had their private libraries, some of them with more than 5000 books. There were women who wrote poems; their verses penetrated their veils, their lettice windows, their walled gardens. There was a special document – ferman – which protected the rights of my people. Many Serbs imigrated from Austro-Hungary, for it was better under the Turks... That glorious, that unimaginable Empire!


I started to wander: to whom it was worse? Us, who were conquered but too proud to "steal" delicate secrets of knowledge, craft and art from our conquerors? Or them, those educated nobles who were condemned to spend their lives in poor, muddy Balkan villages?


My novel took another course. It is not important now what happened to my embroideress and her bey. They were a kind of philosophers. They chose art, in vain. Their life was just an image in a small mirror, the reflection of the whole Empire and its motive power – sadrazam Dammat Ibrahim-pasha. And that small particle of endless time – those years between 1718 and 1730 – it was just a many times repeated fate, an image, a reflection too. It was a mirror of history. I realized: when Empire was strong, when it had a strong hand to guide it, there was peace and prosperity for everybody. In other times, it was frontier louders, often not even Turks, who created the politics of Turkey. And their were the times we remembered – times of cruelty. We haven't remembered the times of grandiose, high, sophisticated Turkey. It was not our fault. Nor it was the fault of Turkey. And that strange, crazy, divine Ibrahim-pasha, what was his last thought when he was tied to the tail of a hamal's horse, and pulled through the streets of Istanbul – in Yeniçeri rebellion, risen up by soldiers of other nations, from borders, from frontiers – was he sorry because of the beautiful buildings they demolished, exotic trees they scantled, libraries they burnt? Or he was sorry for the future of Turkey, knowing that the frontiers are what will kill the magnificence of his country?


I see it as shared tragedy. Frontiers were the enemy both to us and to Turkey itself. The shared fate.


My novel had to get another title. Shared title, doubled title, mirror-like title. I wrote:


Nakisçi, the Embroideress.


When the book was published, it got very good critics and came to bestseller lists, but the greatest praises it got because of its language. I had used many Turkish words that still remained in my own language. "Lingual embroidery", that word was often spoken for my book. And everywhere, in interviews and on literary evenings, I've been trying to explain that it was not my merit. It was Turkish language itself, "French among eastern languages", as I always say, because of its nobility.


While I was trying to write about my conquerors, my heart was conquered by the beauty of Turkey.


I dedicated the book to my husband.


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