Talking Location With author Leigh Russell – YORK
QA with author Nektaria Anastasiadou – Istanbul
11th January 2021
AUC Press talks to author Nektaria Anastasiadou about her debut novel A Recipe For Daphne, set in Istanbul.
AUC Press: A Recipe for Daphne is your first novel. Where did the main idea for the book come from?
NA: One day in 2010 or 2011, an elderly Rum* gentleman told me about a forgotten pastry called the Balkanik. He described it as a large éclair, but with differently flavored crèmes inside. Each crème symbolized a different Balkan people and their harmonious coexistence. Because the peaceful coexistence of peoples with different religions, cultures, and languages is something that fascinates me, I knew that I wanted to write about a pastry chef who would resurrect that old recipe. Thus, my character Kosmas was born.
At that time, I was renting an apartment in the historical street of Faik Paşa in the Çukurcuma neighborhood of Istanbul. One evening I was sitting in my cumba—a traditional bay window—and imagining how the street’s old buildings would have looked when they were built in the nineteenth century, or even half a century prior. I began writing about them in my notebook from the perspective of an old man who had lived all his life on that street, who had seen its changes over time. That old man became Fanis.
The pastry and the street came together into a story when I had a discussion with friends about the difficulty of finding a mate within a small community (the Rum minority of Istanbul is estimated at about two thousand people). I wanted to write about this challenge, so Fanis and Kosmas had to be on the lookout for a Rum wife. If she were already in Istanbul, they would have found her already because everyone knows everyone within a community of two thousand. Consequently, a woman would have to come from outside, but I didn’t want her to come from Greece because I don’t think that we should limit ourselves to the idea that only Greeks understand Rum culture. For that reason, I made Daphne American.
AUC Press: How does Istanbul inspire your writing?
NA: Istanbul is an endless source of material and inspiration. It’s impossible to live here and not have at least ten stories that you would like to write. In spoken Istanbul Greek, we refer to Istanbul as the Polis (City). For us, there is only one Polis, so we don’t need to specify which one. A novelist living in history’s preeminent city—with all its beauty and madness—can never lack inspiration.
AUC Press: Do you write better in summer, at a certain time of the day, in a certain place?
NA: I don’t have a particular season or time of day that during which I write better because I believe that writing is a desk job for which you must show up every morning, regardless of how you feel. I write wherever I am. But after months of writing only in my flat due to quarantines, I now enjoy writing in my favorite café. It’s much cooler than my flat and I can see an acacia tree from where I sit (we don’t have many trees in Istanbul, so this tree is my luxury). The owner brings my green tea and water without me having to say a word, and then I forget all about the real world for the rest of the day. It’s paradise.
*The word Rum comes from the Greek word Romiosi, which literally means ‘Roman.’ The citizens of what we call the Byzantine Empire called themselves Romans, not Byzantines, because they lived within the Eastern Roman Empire. The same term is used in Modern Turkey for the native population of Orthodox Christians.
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