“On the Quay at Smyrna” narrates in detail the violence and suffering wrought by the Turks during the Greco-Turkish War, seen primarily through the eyes of a teenage girl.
In this novella, Los Angeles-based author Margot Demopoulos conveys the vibrant sights, smells, sounds and tastes as well as the daily routines that characterized the lives of Smyrna’s inhabitants from the days before the city’s sacking.
The book tells the story of Penelope, the adolescent daughter of a Greek Smyrniot banker and a mother renowned within the city and beyond as a healer. The family is cosmopolitan, and planning a move to Paris in the autumn, where Penelope will study art. Their lives are comfortable and privileged, surrounded by the songs of the birds kept by Penelope’s sister, Nikki, as well as the kilims, coffee, dates and flowers for which Turkey and Smyrna were and still are famous.
Penelope’s best friend is the daughter of a French consular official. Her new boyfriend is a Turkish Smyrniot who works for an American licorice company. Her concerns are those of a well-off young woman with a talent for watercolor and a blossoming illicit love.
Through Penelope, Demopoulos limns the thinness of the line between war at a “safe” distance, and war as it closes in and finally breaks upon the city. With foreshadowing, imagery and dialogue, Demopoulos develops an increasing atmosphere of threat, building like the heat the narrator describes, discomfiting the reader as it inevitably disrupts the routines of the characters.
About the author
Demopoulos has published work in the Sewanee Review, Kenyon Review, Harvard Review Online and Fiction International, among other places. Her essay, “Patrick Leigh Fermor: We May Just Forget to Die,” and her novel excerpt, “The Invasion,” were published in the Massachusetts Review.
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