The key to The House in Smyrna is in Rio. Her grandfather brought it with him on the boat when he emigrated from Turkey. His granddaughter was born in Portugal, and is travelling all the way back, to see if it still fits in the front door. Is the front door even still there anymore? Smyrna is called İzmir now. What else has changed?
The voice that jumps in is her mother’s. It’s understandable that she wants her daughter to remember the good things, not the suffering that she too endured, also in exile. These the sudden shifts in perspective make it more challenging to decipher what is “really happening”, and what isn’t. Which is not really surprising from a person whose identity is rooted in so many places and times.
This is a book for people on the move, descended from people on the move, who can’t stop moving. Like her protagonist, Tatiana Salem Levy was born in Lisbon and lives between there and Rio. Her translator, Alison Entrekin, who also translated City of God, has moved from Australia to Brazil. The book has clearly struck a chord, as it has been translated into half a dozen languages already, including Turkish. This is not surprising, as The House in Smyrna is ultimately hopeful, as the heroine finds new relationships in the present, in places that belong to her past.
The photo is mine: a postbox in Rio di Janiero, taken last year outside someone else’s front door.