The Carpet Weaver of Uşak By Kathryn Gauci
From USA Today Bestselling author Kathryn Gauci.
"Springtime and early summer are always beautiful in Anatolia. Hardy winter crocuses, blooming in their thousands, are followed by blue muscari which adorn the meadows like glorious sapphires on a silk carpet."
Set amidst the timeless landscape and remote villages of Anatolia, The Carpet Weaver of Uşak is the haunting and unforgettable story of a deep friendship between two women, one Greek Orthodox, the other a Muslim Turk: a friendship that transcends an atmosphere of mistrust, fear and ultimate collapse, long after the wars have ended.
Life in Stavrodromi and Pınarbaşı always moved at a slow pace. The years slipped by with the seasons and news was gathered from the camel trains passing through. The Greek and Turkish inhabitants of these two villages managed to pull together in adversity, keeping an eye out for each other. In the centre of the village stood the Fountain of the Sun and Moon. Here the locals congregated to celebrate the events in each other's life - their loves and losses, their hopes and dreams. When war broke out in a faraway place that few had heard of, a sense of foreboding crept into the village, as silently as the winter mists that heralded the onset of another long, cold winter.
1914: As the tentacles of The Great War threaten to envelop the Ottoman Empire, Uşak, the centre of the centuries-old carpet weaving industry in Turkey, prepares for war. Carpet orders are cancelled and the villagers whose lives depend on weaving, have no idea of the devastating impact the war will have on their lives.
1919: In the aftermath of the war, the tenuous peace is further destabilized when the Greek army lands in Smyrna and quickly fans out into the hinterland. Three years later, the population of Stavrodromi and Pınarbaşı are forced to take sides. Loyalties and friendships that existed for generations are now irrevocably torn apart. Their world has changed forever.
“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.
Kathryn Gauci was born in Leicestershire, England, and studied textile design at Loughborough College of Art and later at Kidderminster College of Art and Design where she specialised in carpet design and technology. After graduating, Kathryn spent a year in Vienna, Austria before moving to Greece where she worked as a carpet designer in Athens for six years. There followed another brief period in New Zealand before eventually settling in Melbourne, Australia.
Before turning to writing full-time, Kathryn ran her own textile design studio in Melbourne for over fifteen years, work which she enjoyed tremendously as it allowed her the luxury of travelling worldwide, often taking her off the beaten track and exploring other cultures. The Embroiderer is her first novel; a culmination of those wonderful years of design and travel, and especially of those glorious years in her youth living and working in Greece – a place that she is proud to call her spiritual home.
Her second novel, Conspiracy of Lies, is set in France during WWII. It is based on the stories of real life agents in the service of the Special Operations Executive and The Resistance under Nazi occupied Europe. To put one’s life on the line for your country in the pursuit of freedom took immense courage and many never survived. Kathryn’s interest in WWII started when she lived in Vienna and has continued ever since. She is a regular visitor to France and has spent time in several of the areas in which this novel is set.