The Carpet Weaver of Uşak
www.chillwithabok.com“Such a touching story, beautifully told. Every aspect of this book touches the heart.”Pauline Barclay – Founder of Chill with a Book Awards
January 7, 2019
“I expected to enjoy this book.And I did.”
There are two villages in Anatolia. Pinarbaşi is Turkish, Stravrodromi is Greek. The only thing that divides them is a road. Their people live together in complete harmony. In reading about the relationship between the two villages, I got a sense that the march of time had left them behind. Mention of a caravanserai, camel trains, goat-herders, and the excitement produced in the women by a chiming clock, all suggest a simple people living simple lives according to a simple ethic: Help your neighbours; they are your family. They could as easily (apart from the clock) belong to biblical times.
The lifeblood of the two villages is the carpet-weaving industry. Aspasia, a gentle, curious woman weaves exquisite carpets. Her husband Christophoros, a proud, hardworking and generous man works in Uşac for a carpet company. They are an adoring couple, whose language is spiced with tender endearments. They long for a child.
Then a bullet fired in faraway Sarajevo changes everything. In the villages, no one knows where Sarajevo is or who Archduke Franz-Ferdinand is or why war has been declared. The young men are summoned to fight, the Ottomans side with Germany and Austria, the Greeks with Russia and the allies. They march away and many are never heard from again. The war also impacts the carpet industry as the women are called upon to turn their skills to making blankets. Production is reduced but even so, carpets stockpile. After the war, further hardship for the two villages begins, testing friendships in the struggle for survival.
There is great depth to this book. The author invites us to look at our lives with all our sophisticated toys and gadgets and ask if we are any happier than women who thrilled at the chiming of a clock. The horrors of war, the ruin and devastation it brings to ordinary people, is juxtaposed by the birth of a child and the hope it brings; and also with a delightful description of Anatolia in spring. I have no faults to pick except that there were a few grammatical errors or typos, minor things, but I think the copy I read was an ARC – a pre-publish proof copy, so these would probably have been picked up in a final edit.
In keeping with the characters, the writing is simple and concise, with no dramatic flourishes or superfluity. I expected to enjoy this book and I did. It’s a story of love, friendship, courage, loss and war, superbly told, set during an epic and tragic event I suspect few know about. I didn’t.
© Susan Appleyard
5***** Mary Yarde‘s review
“I’ve read many books, listened to speakers, heard the survivor’s stories, but there always seems to be something missing; something more personal…”
“Not even death will part us, my love.” Sometimes words transcend time. If only words could halt it. Days slip by almost unseen. Months, seasons, years — all gone in the blink of an eye. What was once is no more and what is to come hardly matters. Nothing can bring her back. Nothing.
The past haunts Christophorus Plato Stavrides, and yet he never speaks of it. His grief is silent — a private torture. All he has left of his beloved Aspasia is their daughter, an old photograph, some silk slippers, and a memory. What he would give to hold Aspasia in his arms again. To look into her gentle face, and make love to her under a starlight sky.
Aspasia had been a talented weaver of carpets. Such skill. Such dedication. Why? Why could the world not have left them alone? They had been happy. Content. They were meant to have had a life together. A long life. It would have been a life built on a foundation of love, family, and carpet weaving. What had they known of war? What had they known of hate? It was those in power that brought the death and the destruction, not them. Not their neighbours. Why? What different lives they could have had if the soldiers had not come.
However, time marches on regardless, and now Christophorus is an old man. It breaks Christophorus’ heart to know that his grandson, Christos, has no interest in the carpet weaving industry of his forefathers. It is a university education which Christos seeks — and with that comes questions. So many questions and until now, Christophorus has avoided answering them. His secrets were his to keep. But, the boy is persistent, and maybe it would not hurt to tell his grandson and his daughter the truth about what happened all those years ago. And although it will open wounds that have never really healed, Christophorus knows that his story and more importantly Aspasia’s story, should be told.
From the busy industrial town of Uşak, the tranquillity of the sleepy village of Stavrodromi and Pınarbaşı, to the horror of the battle at Sarıkamış and the desperate journey to the relative safety of Constantinople, The Carpet Weaver of Uşak, by Kathryn Gauci is the enthralling story of a village torn apart by war and a friendship that could never be destroyed.
Some books seduce you by their opening sentence and do not let go of you until the final full-stop. The Carpet Weaver of Uşak is such a book. Gauci has lavishly evoked the world in which this remarkable novel is set in, and she has woven a tale as complicated and yet as beautiful as any Turkish carpet design. The narrative is flawless, and the story is unforgettable.
Gauci deals with the history of this time with sensitivity as well as a realism that is almost tangible. The plight of the villagers of Stavrodromi and Pınarbaşı is utterly heartbreaking. Theirs was a sleepy village where for generations nothing had changed, and the fact that the inhabitants were a mix of Greek Orthodoxs and Muslim Turks mattered not. First and foremost, they were neighbours. Friends. And now they were being asked to hate each other. The relationships dynamics within the village during these troubled times was masterfully portrayed.
Gauci has embroidered into this book a kaleidoscope of emotions — love, hate, fear, forgiveness — nothing of human nature is left unexplored. The relationship between Aspasia and her best friend Saniye clearly demonstrated the love that these two women had for each other. According to the law they were meant to despise each other, and instead, they both performed extraordinary acts of courage to protect one another. It was very humbling to read.
Likewise, the gentle love story of Christophorus and Aspasia was a wonderful work of art. They are both highly appealing characters whom I adored instantly. Their story is utterly absorbing and incredibly heartwarming. Although, I will warn you, be prepared to shed a few tears — I certainly did.
The Carpet Weaver of Uşak is, without a doubt, a monumental work of scholarship. Not only does Gauci have a keen academic eye for the history of this era, as well as the history and traditions of carpet weaving, she also has a gift for what can only be described as crystalline storytelling. This is a story that does not threaten to mesmerise — it does.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
Reviewed in the United States on October 23, 2020
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Yvonne Payne‘s review
Usak is the nearby center of the carpet weaving industry. In the early period of 1914, Greeks and Turks work together to create these masterpieces that one can virtually see in the wonderful descriptions of old classical and new styles of designing and weaving rugs. Even the methods of creation are described as women work from home and some work from factories in hand-tying the strands that eventually become a completed rug. During those times of work, some workers have conversations that grow and unite these women stronger by the year. Husbands, lovers, pregnancies, family lives and death are united to the point that when the wars between Greeks and Turks begin, these women help each other give birth and survive with each other when their spouses are forced to serve for opposing sides. The carpet weaving industry almost disappears as war becomes more dangerous to all sides!
In the beginning, even in war, soldiers on both sides do their jobs. Many die and the sorrow is evident everywhere. But that doesn’t stop some from rescuing those who are in danger of capture. In 1919 the war becomes worse with the arrival of the Greeks at Smyrna. In the meydan, the Fountain of the Sun and Moon now becomes the place where punishments, mainly death sentences, carried out. The treasured unity is shattered!
Throughout this novel, many die or suffer from prevailing grief, lack of food, loss of children and spouses, and so much more. The author does such a good job at describing each scene that the reader is drawn into the entire account by numerous images that make one think and feel. What stands out, beside the horrors of this war that too few people are aware of, is the ties that bind these two friends and families when distrust prevails.
This is a story that readers will not soon forget, one that celebrates love, laughter, trust and endurance as well as what denies, divides and shatters tradition! Outstanding!!!
September 22, 2018
The female inhabitants of both villages are expert carpet weavers who sell their work to the traders in Uşak, the centre of the province. These are the last days of the Ottoman Empire where capitulations have been granted to the Levantines in İzmir, Istanbul and other important trade centers in the country.
The inhabitants of both villages know very little of the world outside their surroundings and Uşak, and continue their business as usual, cohabiting in the same geography.
Aspasia and Saniye are friends from childhood. They share their secrets and joy, and help each other in times of trouble. Sometimes they need the advice of Ayşe Bacı, Saniye’s mother-in-law, sometimes they listen to Aspasia’s elders. Both are childless, but finally Aspasia gives birth to a daughter, Elpida, and Saniye shares her friend’s joy.
When WWII breaks, the news travels to the village, but the locals have no idea about the conflict, nor how this will affect their lives. When the war ends and the Greek Army occupies Western Turkey, beginning with the İzmir area, things change. The Greeks come all the way to the village, causing havoc, burning houses and shooting the Turks who defy them. The Turkish and Greek residents regard each other with suspicion. Their world has turned upside down, but some of the old friendships survive, despite the odds.
When Atatürk’s War of Independence begins, and the Greeks are finally defeated, the situation changes once more, forcing the Greeks to leave the country. Yet, the friendship between the villagers of different cultures still continues. The Greeks who helped the Turks during the Greek occupation, are now helped and supported by the Turks.
Aspasia is pregnant again, about to give birth. Her husband, Christophorus, has found an escape route with the help of Saniye’s husband, Cemal, and Ayşe Bacı.
Will they be able to escape? Will they ever see each other again or their village?
Many years later, in Athens, Christophorus tells his grandson, and his daughter, Elpida, the missing parts of the story, and what he had to leave behind in Asia Minor.
A story of love, friendship, and loss; a tragedy that affects the lives of many on both sides of the Aegean, and their struggle to survive under new circumstances, as casualties of a war beyond their control.Kahryn Gauci weaves her poignant story and characters with the expert hands of a carpet weaver, bringing out the colours and the dark threads with each knot that goes into the loom.
Seriously, this novel effortlessly immerses the reader in a time and place with important lessons for our times. Gauci kept me reading, even when her subject matter was dark and brutal. I love her use of the five senses – her descriptions of food always make me so, so hungry – her adroit, sensitive construction of character and place, and how I always escape into her works, and emerge satisfied and enriched by a wonderful storyteller.
September 24, 2018
This situation is beautifully described, and centres around characters of genuine feeling and courage as they struggle through the terrible problems that war always brings. Dreadful poverty sweeps through areas where once everyone lived in sufficiency. The awful consequences rage into shocking colour as we sympathise deeply for the characters who seem so alive.
Everything comes alive within these pages. We cry with the pain and desperation, we smile and sigh for the kind understanding and courageous help the villages share with each other. History leaps into reality and we learn to care not only for the people but also for their lost traditions and faiths.
I highly recommend this book. It was a pleasure to read, and although it is not always a happy tale, it is always gripping.
The background to the book is the carpet weaving industry, where hand knotting occurs in the villages, using the wool the carpet factory supplies. The auth …more
November 9, 2018
This is a story of two women that have an amazing friendship while war is going on around then. That no matter what is happening and what side someone is on a true friendship won’t break.
Kathryn takes you on an emotional journey in The Carpet Weaver of Usak. There are plenty of surprises and twists throughout the book. Keep your tissue box close by. Thank you Kathryn for another beautiful story.
What a terrible tale, as wars tear apart the lives of everyone in a village where previously one’s religion was not more important than the warmth of your heart. It has the ring of truth about it…
Alison rated it
But in her vivid descriptions of food, fabrics and everyday Anatolian village life, Gauci doesn’t spare us the horrors. She cleverly gives us a sense of dread and desolation of war but without any gratuitous …more