Monday, December 2, 2013

"The Drowning Guard"

A recent news story reminded me of a novel I read several months ago. The news story was about a planned tunnel to be constructed under the Bosporus between the eastern and western parts of Turkey.

The novel, by Linda Lafferty, is loosely based on actual people and events during the 1820s in the Ottoman Empire. If you have any interest in that part of the world and it’s history, this is a fascinating story. The lead character is the Sultaness Esma, favorite sister of the sultan and a woman before her time.

As was customary in that time and place, the Sultan maintained a large harem. The women were essentially slaves, but generously pampered and kept hidden away, to be summoned only for the Sultan‘s pleasure. It was, however, not customary for a woman to have a harem, but Esma did. Her harem was a group of women friends to keep her company in her gilded cage. [Sons of living Sultans also were held under what might be considered house arrest so they were less likely to try to depose their fathers.]

Esma had her own palace and ran it as she pleased -- sometimes testing the severe restrictions placed upon women. She was purportedly a beautiful and seductive woman with a strong sexual appetite. The story goes that she took a different Christian bed partner every night. Following her frolics with each man, he was silenced by being drowned in the Bosporus, thus the drowning guard.

As were most of the guards and male servants, Esma’s had been captured during military campaigns and forced to serve their Ottoman captors. Considering their inescapable fate, they were clothed, fed and sheltered as valued servants. The man Esma chose to drown her victims was a Serbian Christian with whom she fell in love. Of course, being a Muslim and royalty, she could not act on her feelings.

The novel is well-researched and written. The characters are believable and well expressed.

So, getting back to the news story -- I imagined divers stumbling across the skeletons of hundreds of Esma’s victims during construction of the tunnel. Not something I’d want to discover.

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