Book Review: Summer Heat by Defne Suman

by Cathy
Published: Last Updated on


Melike has it all: a beautiful home in Istanbul, a career as an art historian, an attentive husband. But her yearning for more excitement has led her surreptitiously into the arms of other men.

On the cusp of her fortieth birthday, Melike is resolute: the affairs must stop. Then she receives a mysterious email from a man named Petro, requesting a tour of Istanbul’s Byzantine churches. Against her better judgement, she accepts.

As soon as she sees Petro, with his endearing smile and impeccable charm, Melike knows she is in trouble. But she is not the only one keeping secrets. Petro has a hidden agenda of his own – one which, when uncovered, will not only upend Melike’s future, but alter everything she believed about her past…

Set alternately between 2003 and 1974, during the Turkish Army’s invasion of Cyprus, Defne Suman’s third novel to be translated into English tells of one woman’s place in her country’s devastating history.

My Review

I chose to read Summer Heat not knowing much about Istanbul, Türkiye or Cyprus – other than the ancient monuments that I visited when I went on a family holiday to Cyprus as a teenager. I enjoy learning about history and culture through fiction books because they weave a plot line in with the historical facts.

Summer Heat moves between Melike’s (the protagonist) present and past. The book starts out moving between time frames in alternating chapters with a definitive signal that we have moved from Melike’s current life to her memories. As you get further into the story, the clearly defined lines of the present and past start to blur. We start to get more details about the past from other character sharing their memories verbally with Melike. I liked this structure because it helped me keep track of the two different time periods in my mind as I was reading before the events in the book became too entangled.

One of the main themes that ties Melike’s past and present is secrets. Melike’s secrets in the present day (like her affairs) that we’re privy to as the reader. And the secrets from Melike’s childhood that we have to speculate on using the information that Melike remembers.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure if I liked Melike that much at the start of the story, she seemed very flippant and self-centred. Getting bits and pieces and small details about her childhood through the first part of the book made her much more empathetic as a character. She’s clearly deeply traumatised by the events of her past and the secrets that were kept from her obviously left her feeling left out and abandoned by the various adults in her life. Once this started to become clear, I started to warm to her. Whether Defne Suman intended to do this or not, I personally think it’s a mark of a clever writer if you feel some sort of strong emotion towards a character, be it postitive or negative.

The whole story is compelling—more so than I’d imagined—the author has carefully placed a trail of breadcrumbs interwoven with the reveal or partial reveal of a secret, some of which Melike had an inkling about and others—like her father making contact and her mother planning to run away with the village school teacher when she was a child—she didn’t. I like the realistic way that the revealing of secrets are dealt with; some completely out of the blue and devastate Melike. Others are casually slipped into conversation or the story and almost glossed over.

Suman, and by extension Göksel as the translator, has created a tension-filled dramatic storyline that really plays on the “if only I’d known back then”. Hindsight in Summer Heat seems to be the bain of Melike’s life and throughout the story, as one devastating truth after another was revealed, I started to wonder what Melike’s story could have been if she’d known then what she knows now. What would she have done differently? Would she have done anything differently? As the reader, you start getting into murky water because without Melike’s parents and grandmother making the choices they made, you wouldn’t have Melike as she is in the story, we wouldn’t have Summer Heat.

Summer Heat is captivating, intense and heartbreaking and it leaves you pondering the question, “If you could have changed the past, would you?”

I’d like to say a big thank you to Defne Suman, Betsy Gösekl and Katelynn Dreyer at Kaye Publicity for providing me with a copy of the book. | Amazon Goodreads

The author

Defne Suman was born in Istanbul and grew up on Prinkipo Island. She gained a Masters in sociology from the Bosphorus University and then worked as a teacher in Thailand and Laos, where she studied Far Eastern philosophy and mystic disciplines. She later continued her studies in Oregon, USA and now lives in Athens with her husband. The Silence of Scheherazade, translated from Turkish by Betsy Göksel, was first published in Turkey and Greece in 2016 and is her English language debut.

The translator

Betsy Göksel is an American teacher and translator who has lived in Turkey since the 1960s. Her translations include The Hate Trap by Haluk Sahin and The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman, as well as several books on art and architecture for the Istanbul Municipality.

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