This is a truly great novel. It is set in Western Turkey in the early 20th century and concerns the events surrounding the first world war, the break-up and eventual dissolution of the Ottoman empire, and the effect that this has on the everyday inhabitants of a small town.
The story opens in Eskibahce and we are drawn into daily life through a series of anecdotes and tales told through the eyes of its various inhabitants. As the book progresses, the scene is cut more frequently to the historical events that are taking place, and as the book reaches its climax, we find ourselves totally engrossed in the war: the geopolitical struggles, the nationalist politics, the struggle between Greeks and Turks, and life in the trenches at Gallipoli.
The book achieves a superb balance between its gripping description of the history and politics of the time, and its equally gripping personal dramas being played out in this context. It explains the great tragedy that results ultimately in the deportation of the Turkish Greeks, with its attendant destruction of whole communities, the terrible consequences to individuals, and even the break-up of individual families.
To call this an "historical novel" is to understate the quality of the story-telling. There is some wonderful narrative here: the book creates its own folklore, marvellous tales, funny stories, sad stories, shocking stories, all embedded in this steam-rollering march of historical inevitability. We also meet some marvelous characters, who become like old friends as they come back time and again to contribute their little piece of the story. And here is another beautifully-executed technique - the stories overlap, as told by different people and seen from different points of view. In the mind of the reader is built a much richer experience of events when seen from so many different angles.
It's one of those books that is satisfying and interesting right from the outset. You know you are not going to be disappointed. It's just as well because it is 625 pages long! However, it's original, it's intelligent, it's informative, and it's one of those books that you must not miss.