KURT SEYT & SHURA
Anyone who has spent time over the last couple of years haunting the historical drama selections on Netflix might have come across the beautiful Turkish offering, Kurt Seyt & Shura. What viewers might not realize is that the television series was based on a series of books by Turkish author Nermin Bezmen. Further, the casual viewer might not know that the books are a fictionalized account of the life of the real Kurt Seyt and the real Shura—and that the author is Kurt Seyt’s granddaughter!
Not having seen the series, I was unsure of what to expect when I began the book. What I found was an intricately researched and beautifully written tale of love and war, passion and betrayal, set in a world that is disintegrating, where commitment to land and lovers is sorely tried by the realities of obligation and the need to survive.
Without giving away too much, Kurt Seyt is a cavalry officer in Imperial Russia on the eve of the Russian Revolution. He is from an old and wealthy Turkic family from the Crimea, loyal to the tsar and to tradition. Shura, short for Alexandra, is the beautiful and very young daughter of a Russian nobleman. The two meet at a ball and fall in love. But life is not always that easy. Kurt Seyt has obligations to his country, and his country is at war; furthermore, he has always been admonished by his father to take a wife from among his own people, of his own religion. When the Bolsheviks rise in revolt and their own armies seek to purge the country of the old guard, both find their lives are in danger and must make wrenching and terrible decisions.
This is a love story, and yet it is not, because life is not always that easy. Characters are torn between loyalties and friends turn on friends, while enemies recall past connections. The descriptions are gripping and haunting, and the sense of impending peril, as everything the characters have known is destroyed around them, is visceral. One does not finish this book and just put it down. The tale lingers in the mind.
I have to commend translator Feyza Howell for a superb piece of writing. In reading translated material, it is not always easy to know where full credit belongs. A brilliant work can be destroyed by a poor translation (ask me about Camus’ The Outsider that we had to read in high school!), and I suppose mediocre writing can be elevated by a fabulous translation. In this case, I suspect the original was excellent, and the clear and precise work of the translator merely brought the original Turkish words to life in English.
Kurt Seyt & Shura was originally published in 1982, and was translated into English in 2017.
Now… Now for the food, because there has to be food! Our protagonists survived the war and revolution by escaping across the Black Sea to Turkey, where Seyt’s descendants still live. Consequently, I went on a quest for Turkish treats. I thought about baklava, I thought about boreks (layered pastries with thin dough and savoury fillings like cheese or spinach), but then I found this recipe for Revani, a light semolina cake soaked in a citrusy syrup. It’s even more delicious than it sounds. Check out the recipe here.
The Important Stuff
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