"The rest of the population had gathered to observe the departure, but they were not apparently about to do anything untoward. They seemed curious, and oddly subdued, as if they were about to witness a passing procession of animals rather than the deportation of their friends and neighbours. ..."
So begins the description of the forced evacuation of all the Christians out of Eskibahçe, a fictional town in Louis de Bernières' book, "Birds Without Wings." It's one thing to read those words snug in bed at night in Izmir; it's another to hear them read about by the author himself while gazing at the abandoned homes of Christians who once lived in Kayaköy, the real-life village that forms the basis for Eskibahçe.
Yesterday afternoon, under a low, cloudy sky, we trekked over to Kayaköy from Fethiye to attend a book reading and discussion with de Bernières about the novel, a fictitious account of a village populated with both Greeks and Turks and how the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the passing of the Treaty of Lausanne and the subsequent forced population exchange between Greece and Turkey affected its inhabitants.
We arrived in Kayaköy in the morning to give ourselves plenty of time to see the abandoned city before going to the talk. It was the perfect day for hiking through the ruined city, with low, dark clouds overhead and a cool breeze blowing through the empty shells where, not so long ago, Turkish Muslims and Greek Christians once lived in relative peace.
The event was held at the lovely Gunay Gardens, located just a few minutes walking distance from the entrance to Kayaköy, outside by the pool, where we could all sit to eat lunch and then lay on carpets and divans to listen to the talk.
de Bernières read a few passages from the novel, then answered a few questions from the audience. He did all of the research for the novel himself, and it took him almost 10 years to finish the book, mainly because, he said, his previous novel, "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", had done quite well and he spent a lot of time playing golf. (I'm not sure if he was joking here.)
Someone asked if there would be a film made of "Birds Without Wings", and de Bernières said that trying to make this film was like "trying to keep kittens in a box". Maybe someday the film will be made, he said, but right now no one has a definite timeline of when anything will happen.
Even though the book is written in English by a British author, I still assumed that the turnout would include many more local Turkish people than came. Of the some 100 people or so in attendance, the great majority of them were British (which, as I said, sort of does make sense given de Bernières himself is from the UK and the book is in English). But I supposed that more local people would come out -- the novel was translated into Turkish after all -- and so it felt a little bit like a early Doris Lessing novel ("Martha Quest", not "Shikasta", if you catch my drift).
While making our way back to Fethiye, we passed a field growing wild with deep red poppies, and I wondered to myself if, on their way out of Kayaköy in 1923, the departing Christians passed flowers just as beautiful.