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The Embroiderer

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A richly woven saga set against the mosques and minarets of Asia Minor and the ruins of ancient Athens

1822: As the Greek War of Independence rages, a child is born to a woman of legendary beauty on the Greek island of Chios. The subsequent decades of bitter struggle between Greeks and Turks simmer to a head when the Greek army invades Turkey in 1919. During this time, Dimitra Lamartine arrives in Smyrna and gains fame and fortune as an embroiderer to the elite of Ottoman society. However, it is her granddaughter, Sophia, who takes the business to great heights as a couturier in Constantinople only to see their world come crashing down with the outbreak of war.

1922: Sophia begins a new life in Athens, but the memory of a dire prophecy once told to her grandmother about a girl with flaming red hair begins to haunt her, with devastating consequences.

1972: Eleni Stephenson is called to the bedside of her dying aunt in Athens. In a story that rips her world apart, Eleni discovers the chilling truth behind her family's dark past, plunging her into the shadowy world of political intrigue, secret societies, and espionage, where families and friends are torn apart and where a belief in superstition simmers just below the surface.

Extravagant, inventive, and emotionally sweeping, The Embroiderer is a tale that travelers and those who seek culture and oriental history will love.

372 pages, Paperback

Published November 5, 2014

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Kathryn Gauci

14 books113 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 54 reviews
Profile Image for David Baird.
463 reviews18 followers
May 11, 2016
I feel very lucky to have been offered the chance to review this book, I absolutely loved it.

For the most part the book focuses around Sophia, who came across as a very powerful character who has to deal with so much pain throughout her life… but there’s so much more to the book. It’s covers multiple generations and sometimes you are left with tit bits of information which light is shed onto later in the book. It made this book a fascinating read to say the least.

I felt a lot of time went into this book, the detail given not only to the characters but also the background..the places visited.. the people..and if I’m honest I loved the underlying family traits of painting and embroidery that were explored.

The major theme that plays out throughout the book is war.. and how it affects Sophia and her family.. and at times it was hard to read..i had my hand over my mouth a few times as some of the events.. it was so tragic.

This book was full of character development and the best part.. it was a natural development rather than forced… my heart ached for Sophia.

3 chapters in to the book I was already looking at rating the book a 4* simply because my brain couldn’t understand everything that was going on. It felt like three stories rolled into one.. I think that’s me.. I over think.. I look 10 chapters ahead wondering where a story will go. The way the author managed to tie everything together and to keep me waiting so long for the information I knew would come brought this up to the 5*. The suspense is what kept me reading even when I was tired..i just had to keep reading

The author also gives you a lot of background info to the wars that are being waged. It was hard to take it all in at times but rest assured this info doesn’t take anything away from the main story if you don’t quite understand it all.

In conclusion this is a wonderfully emotional book, full of heartache and love. The author has put so much into this book it’s hard to do it justice.. Read the book.. you’ll enjoy it
Profile Image for Elise McCune.
Author 1 book91 followers
December 18, 2016
If you love historical fiction this is a beautifully written novel. The story is about a Greek family from the middle of the 19th century to the late twentieth century. The Embroiderer covers both world wars and is set against the backdrop of the Greek War of Independence.

The novel, from the massacre on Chios through to the end of WWII in Greece, portrays three remarkable women: Dimitra, her granddaughter Sophia and Sophia’s granddauther Eleni.

Kathryn Gauci was born in England and lived in Athens for 6 years where she worked as a carpet designer. I hope one day she writes her own autobiography as her life is one of adventure and beauty!

A Five Star Read

Elise McCune
Profile Image for David Huntley.
39 reviews3 followers
October 17, 2020
Review of “The Embroiderer”
It took me a while to read this book. Not because it was uninteresting, or difficult to follow, or badly written. On the contrary, each and every page or chapter either opened a new or a continuing saga of a family as its history stretched across the period of Asia Minor from 1865 through to post world war 2.

The interruptions which caused me to pause my reading were in fact positive reinforcements of history I had just learned and given me time to think about the implications of the turbulent times the author had so eloquently described. The opening prologue prepares the reader for some shocking revelations of horror visited upon the Greek population of the island of Chios as the Turks reign down terror in their invasion of this little jewel of land. They come in response to the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Turkish Empire.

It is Constantinople 1909 and the reader is introduced to Dimitra, her daughter Pheoteini and her granddaughter Sophia. It was Dimitra who had become known as a superior embroiderer to the Court of the Sultan’s mother. Eventually, Sophia had taken over this role and establishing a fine clientele in the palace.

Eventually, Sophia built the business until their Greek family was one of the wealthiest in Constantinople. It was Dimitra however who yearned for returning to her roots of Smyrna and was worried the political situation in Constantinople was too volatile.

Nevertheless, the business grew until Sophia and her husband Andreas built their designer house, La Maison Du L’Orient, Madame Sophia, Haute Couture.

The reader is taken by the author Kathryn Gauci, on a journey over time through history for which many of us in the Western world are often unfamiliar. You will be entranced by her descriptions of elegance and beauty, of marble and stone, of couture in the Eastern mode, with the finest of crafts the world has seen.

This will be sharply countered by scenes of instability, family tragedy, murder, horror, and massacre as the geopolitical forces between Greek and Turks clash together. Where Greeks and Turks had lived together for decades, suddenly their peaceful coexistence is ripped asunder, and are forced to live their lives separately once again. We are taken through this period from before the first world war to the second world war. Eleni a granddaughter of Sophia living in London is introduced to her family history in 1972 and makes the journey to Athens to learn more.

I enjoyed this book immensely, it was long, it was very detailed and I took longer to read it than I should have, probably because I gorged myself on the vivid descriptions the author placed before me in such scholarly style. Also, again, probably because of my age, I had to concentrate on trying to remember all the family members of this hierarchy. The drama and adventure of the narrative drained me emotionally but in such a way it left me with a satisfied and pleasant feeling I had just read something of great significance.

I urge you too to experience a journey of historical significance with elements of all the human emotions captured for you to strongly feel and visualize.
David E. Huntley, October 16, 2020
Profile Image for Marjory McGinn.
Author 7 books46 followers
October 7, 2022
I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel by Kathryn Gauci which has a breath-taking narrative stretching over two centuries from the Greek War of Independence, the Greco/Turkish war of the 1920s to the Second World War. It would be a tall order for any writer to bring these tumultuous periods into sharp focus and make them clear and entertaining, but it's a massive achievement for a first-time novelist. Gauci succeeds in this by weaving her vast story through the lives of three generations of intriguing Greek women, starting from Dimitra, the Embroiderer of the title. Their story of life in the Greek settlements of western Turkey, such as cosmopolitan Smyrna (present day Izmir) and Constantinople is fascinating.

The strongest narrative thread is through the success and struggles of the younger heroine Sophia who runs an exclusive fashion house in Smyrna and who will suffer the devastating fate of many thousands of other Greeks forced to flee the destruction of Smyrna, the ensuing genocide of the Greco/Turkish war in 1922, and the infamous exchange of populations between the two countries.

I am in awe of the amount of historical and social detail the author has managed to bring to this tale and to the intricacies of Ottoman politics and the cultural life in this region, as well as Athens, where the story continues. This is a valuable book for those particularly wanting to know more about Greek life in Asia Minor - which stretched back for thousands of years - and which has now been lost forever. It also resonates with the current political upheavals of the Middle East.
A fascinating and compelling story.
Marjory McGinn - author of A Scorpion In The Lemon Tree
Profile Image for Sandy  McKenna.
672 reviews16 followers
October 23, 2019
An extremely moving story.

I was thoroughly embroiled in this magnificent story of six generations of women spanning from 1822 to 1973.
Set in Turkey and Greece, it tells of the atrocities of war, the bonds of family, love and loss, and also of betrayal and deceit.
So very well written and researched, this is a book I would highly recommend.
Profile Image for Alan Hamilton.
Author 79 books9 followers
December 1, 2014
When I looked at and opened the book, my reaction was ‘It’s a saga. Not the kind of book I normally read’. What a lesson I had. The adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, in my case is replaced by, ‘don’t judge a book by its blurb or its publicity’.
As I read it, it did everything the best novels should do.
Even though the story spreads across much of the nineteenth and three-quarters of the twentieth centuries, the pace does not flag, you keep turning the pages, you’re not inclined to skip whole passages; the excitement and tension of the plot is transmitted through the characters directly to the reader. The characterisation, and this is an enormous cast, is excellent and the reader is drawn to care what happens to each of them. Any student of Mediterranean history will be fully aware that if the sea itself does not have tides, the flow of people and the movement of ideas in the area has been truly tidal, and will appreciate the profound fears and unease that have always underlain relations between the Hellenic west and Ottoman east – still present today in Cyprus. The reader is made conscious of what happens as empires crumble: how the hatreds, which are largely subsumed in a working multicultural empire, rise to engulf both those who know their world is collapsing and those who see the chance to throw off the rule of the empire. The description of the sack of Smyrna (Izmir) is a work of art of its own. All of these tensions and tragedies are superbly portrayed in this book and the scope and the timescale are handled with great skill.
The novel teaches without being didactic. Almost all readers will have little familiarity with Greco-Turkish cultures, so there’s much to learn. What people ate and drank, how they slept, worked, communicated, loved and lived within the framework of two religions, fundamentally different in philosophy, yet joined at the hip. All of this the author encourages us to appreciate in the course of the storytelling, I even felt I was there taking part in it all.
For me the hallmark of literature is when it fully engages my emotions. The author successfully draws out our pity for the tragedies, public and personal, she presents us with, and at the novel’s ending imbues us with such feelings of warmth and closeness to the remaining actors that it doesn’t seem at all improper to have tears at the back of one’s eyes.
The production values of this book from cover to cover match the beauty of the story and the way it is written. It is a flagship for self-publishing and sometime soon literary agents and publishers are going to rue missing this particular bus.
Profile Image for Effrosyni Moschoudi.
Author 20 books235 followers
June 9, 2017
I love historical fiction set in Greece and Asia Minor, and this book was not just a fine specimen in my opinion, but one of the best and most memorable books I've ever read in this genre. If you loved 'Birds Without Wings' by Louis de Bernières, this is unmissable! I was amazed by the intricate detail in the author's descriptions of all different eras and places. I can only imagine the kind of thorough research this feat must have taken. The story was both compelling and enchanting, and I particularly enjoyed the parts in Smyrna and Constantinople. The atrocities of war chilled my blood and the drama the main characters were constantly faced with was heart-wrenching. By the end of the book I felt overwhelmed by the journey and also felt that I'd been given a wonderful gift: the chance to experience in vivid detail life in Constantinople and Smyrna during precious times for Hellenism that came to pass long before I was born. It was therefore enthralling for me to experience all that so vividly. For example, I could almost feel the sea spray on my face as the characters walked along the Smyrna seafront! This is a truly unforgettable book and I urge all lovers of historical fiction to read it. Gauci's story still stays with me vividly, and it's been over a week since I finished it. Well done, to this amazing author with a uniquely lyrical style. I can't wait to read her next book already! (I received a free copy and chose voluntarily to review it).
Profile Image for David Ebsworth.
Author 16 books99 followers
November 10, 2014
This is Kathryn Gauci’s début novel – but I would never have known that from the writing and telling of her tale. It occurred to me, instead, that if Tolstoy had been able to produce a historical fiction based on the complex relationships between Greeks and Turks during the final days of the Ottoman Empire, it would have very much resembled The Embroiderer.

The action moves smoothly between carefully woven images of Chios, Constantinople, Smyrna and Athens; from the ravages of the Greek War of Independence, through the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, the formation of the Greek and Turkish Republics, and the German occupation of Greece during the Second World War; through a very rich tapestry of births, marriages and deaths for the main female protagonists – Dimitra Lamartine, her grand-daughter, Sophia, and Eleni Stephenson, with whom the story starts and ends; across some of the most fascinating incidents of action and intrigue that I’ve read for a long time; and all set against the beautiful colours with which Kathryn herself embroiders the world of exotic textiles.

I enjoyed the book very much, and I know that it will appeal to a very wide audience. Hopefully, Kathryn Gauci will gain the recognition she richly deserves for this excellent story and will go on to tell many more.

Profile Image for Pamela Rogers.
Author 4 books14 followers
September 1, 2017
Glittering tapestries are woven throughout the lives of four generations of women in this engrossing novel. (The introduction and historical notes are not to be missed!) In the Prologue, we witness lovely Greek Artemis giving birth to a baby girl in the Monastery of Nea Moni on Chios amidst the horror of the massacre by the Turks. The baby's life is the only one saved. Fast forward to Eleni, a gallery owner in London 1972 who knows little about her ancestors, until she is called frantically to her Aunt's bedside as she nears death in Athens. There all, from wealth and opulence to war and famine, is finally revealed. Captivating, historically correct, fascinating and educational, The Embroiderer reveals the futility of war and the restoration of the human spirit of love. I believe it is one of the vitally important books of our time. It has been translated into Greek, and I hope it will be in Turkish too. Thank you, Kathryn Gauci!
Profile Image for Yvonne Payne.
Author 10 books15 followers
February 26, 2015
Ottoman Crete is a special interest of mine so I looked forward to reading this novel expecting to enjoy it. What I'd not expected was to learn so much new information woven into a wonderful story, with harsh realities and beautiful descriptions, that kept me engrossed from start to finish. The only problem was that I read it too greadilly so I need to go back for another read in the future to pick up on even more of the delicate interwoven strands. For now I'm left with a burning need to inhale the scent of attar of roses!
Profile Image for Eleanor Sapia.
Author 2 books96 followers
February 27, 2015
Kathryn Gauci's debut novel, 'The Embroiderer' is phenomenal. A story of love, loss, despair, and women's courage in the face of adversity, the characters immediately had my full attention, and continued to pull me in right to the end. Meticulously researched, and a joy to read, this book will appeal to historical fiction lovers who are looking for an exotic setting. I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Laura.
Author 8 books140 followers
August 9, 2017
James Michener, one of my favorite authors, could have written a tale set in an Ottoman world, for he was fond of complex human identities and even spoke of the Golden Men in his best-selling novel, Hawaii. Kathryn Gauci's The Embroiderer has much of the Golden Men in it - but here though, we should speak of Golden Women. Eleni Stephenson, the first woman we meet, is after all an impressive blend of Greek, French, Russian and English. Meanwhile, her Greek heritage bears an undeniable Ottoman influence.
James Michener never wrote The Embroiderer. But he could have. It is perfect.

A vivid, cinematic tale, The Embroiderer is a richly woven family saga beginning during the Ottoman Empire through to its downfall and ending in the 70s. On the light side, it is a tale that travellers and those who seek culture and oriental history will love. But it is also a tale of love, survival, loss, revenge and the search for one's identity. It unravels the lives of four passionate women: Eleni Stephenson, her aunt, Maria, her grandmother, Sophia, and her great-great-grandmother, Dimitra.

Most of the story centers on the talented and shrewd Sophia who lives in the cosmopolitan Smyrna (modern day Izmir) during the early 20th century. Following in the footsteps of her embroiderer grandmother, Dimitra, Sophia runs a successful fashion boutique catering to an elite clientele, both Turkish and Greek. In a world where both Greeks and Turks have over centuries, inherited deeply felt resentments, Sophia becomes swept up in complex and dangerous political times, spanning from the Balkan Wars, through the Great Fire of Smyrna, the genocidal crimes involving Turks against Greeks and Armenians, and the dramatic emigration of Greeks from Turkey to Athens. Through Sophia's life, we meet a vast cast of touching and fascinating characters. Even the minor characters are so well-portrayed that their fate keeps the reader interested.

Both Dimitra and Maria were intriguing to me. Dimitra was my favorite character because of her enigmatic and old world quality. As for Maria, given the hostility and romantic disappointments she had to face in her life and her desire to be loved and admired, I thought that her psychology was well-executed.

The Embroiderer was a fantastic, entertaining read with much depth. There is never a moment where the story loses momentum or wavers. There are two mysteries to keep one reading - what happened to the baby we learn of in the first chapter? And will the fortune-teller's prediction come true and how? Yet even without those two questions, the reader is enthralled by this hybrid Ottoman-Balkan world of romance, glamour, espionage, political turmoil and family drama.

When dealing with the political, The Embroiderer, provided a well-balanced view of both Greek and Turkish sides, never judging or aligning itself. It was more focussed on the theme of revenge. Revenge is explored both at the individual level and on a mass social level. Both times it is portrayed as senseless, a series of actions that reap no rewards. The rich quote that accompanies this theme opens the story, and resurfaces later, where it makes a high impact.

I learned so much from this novel. After reading it, my mind wandered to Smyrna and what it must have looked like before the Great Fire. I read up about the great famine that overtook Greece during World War II, a part of history I ignored, and which this story touches on. The author's knowledge of the secret societies was intriguing while the historical detail on the whole was exceptional without being overwhelming or boring.

Kathryn Gauci is a gifted storyteller whose passion for her subject showed. I am ever grateful that she has penned this masterful tale. Some stories change you. This is one of those.
Profile Image for May Panayi.
Author 24 books17 followers
September 20, 2015
This book is an amazing saga through the modern history of Greece and the conflicts suffered by its people, including those with Turkey and Germany. But it's so much more than that. The characters are well developed and very real, I engaged so much with their tale. I am a confirmed Grecophile anyway, but this book just deepened my love. Filled with familiar sights flavours and sensations, I had trouble putting it down. It is a massive read and a little more pricey than most in its genre- but well worth it. Filled with surprises and twists, I genuinely loved it.
Profile Image for Margaret Halliday.
Author 8 books2 followers
May 28, 2019
A mammoth historical read

This book spans around 150 years, including the Balkan Wars and the First and Second World Wars, in particular the effect on Greece and Turkey. It’s a fascinating read which follows a Greek family of embroiderers through these turbulent times. Romance, murder and betrayal abound and the writing brings it all vividly to life.
January 5, 2015
A must read book. Thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. Easily explained even for the novice reader. I just loved the characters in this book, very well depicted by the author
Profile Image for Lauren Gilbert.
Author 4 books34 followers
April 4, 2019
A fantastic book. I could not put it down. Extremely well written, about fascinating characters set in historical times and places of immense interest.
Profile Image for S.C. Karakaltsas.
Author 4 books24 followers
April 25, 2017
A wonderful family epic stretching across 150 years in Turkey and Greece. The history was rich with strong female characters notably from the one family across four generations. I'd never read about the fall of the Ottoman Empire and it gave me a much broader understanding of that entire region. The author has done a great job weaving in suspense and drama with a climactic ending.
5 reviews2 followers
December 29, 2019
I felt l learnt a great deal about the torturous relationship between Turkey and Greece. I became a member of Sophia's family and lived through everything with her. It is a very absorbing book with many twists and turns from beginning to end.
Profile Image for Marilyn.
14 reviews1 follower
October 23, 2020
A fascinating story set in a historical period that is rarely used in historical novels.
Profile Image for Janice Richardson.
Author 7 books95 followers
April 9, 2019
A brilliant work, a complex, captivating and compelling story. Historical fiction fans will long remember this family saga. This tale of war waged through generations has much to teach us. This is not a quick read, and it is hard to put down.
851 reviews27 followers
October 2, 2016
For those who love a grand family saga, The Embroiderer will more than satisfy your love of the genre. To begin with, we meet Dimitra, a strong, old-fashioned woman who raises strong daughters. Dimitra’s past remains a secret until the very end of this novel but what is depicted before that astonishing finale is more than worth the wait!
Dimitra is the talented embroiderer, weaving together Turkish and Greek textile materials into designs that elicit awe in the beholder, all marked with a small, beautifully colored and crafted trademark flower. While she encourages her daughters to be educated in languages and other subjects, she also allows them space to develop their own incredible talents. One particular prophecy troubles her on and off until it comes to become reality years later.
Dimitra’s daughter, Sophia, becomes a talented designer of high couture women’s clothing that is popular with both Greeks and Turks, a surprise given the deep animosity between those two peoples. Indeed, this novel spans the historical time period of the Greek War for Independence against the Turks in in 1822 to the Balkan Wars and eventually World War II in Asia Minor, Europe, and elsewhere.
The men and women of this family and their supportive, loyal friends become friends forever, through the celebratory moments of joy as each woman succeeds all the way through the brutal scenes of each war. In times of starvation and illness, the family saves so many in the Greek community who would otherwise have died but for the charity they received, given humbly but deliberately. To whom much is given, much is required, and this family never loses sight of that necessity. It makes the victories seem that much sweeter!
Sophia’s daughter, Marie becomes first a famous opera and then cabaret singer and Nina becomes a scholarly quiet woman dedicated to her own love of art and history. It is Nina’s daughter, Eleni, who is the narrator of this historical saga which sweeps the reader into its tapestry and holds it to the very last page.
Each woman will have true, passionate lovers and others unworthy of any loyalty and attention. The reader through these scenes reads about such poignant scenes of suffering, endurance, unbelievable strength, and quiet but deadly resistance. Even the servants are so totally engaged with this family that they literally are considered family.
There are betrayals as well, one in particular too horrendous to conceive but which will remain etched forever in readers’ minds and hearts. But so too will be the sensational descriptions of luscious food and exciting clothing that are simply delightful to follow, both the familiar and the exotically strange.
All in all, The Embroiderer is a stunningly wonderful work of historical fiction and as the first novel of this new author a tribute to her immense skills of description and expression. Highly recommended indeed! Wonderful story and writing, Kathryn Gauci!

Profile Image for Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum.
977 reviews104 followers
May 12, 2015
It's 1972, and Eleni is summoned to her dying aunt's bedside in Athens. Her aunt wants to come clean about Eleni's family history and recounts a shocking life, full of secrets, loss, war, betrayal, death, love and espionage.

The tale takes us as far back as 1822, during the The Greek War of Independence, and essentially follows one particular family and their efforts to survive the conflicts, keep their business going and stay alive in turbulent times.

My understanding of these conflicts is not as comprehensive as it should be, and reading The Embroiderer was a great way to learn about the battles, invasions and wars in Greece from the Greek War of Independence (1821-1832) through to the Balkan Wars (1912-1913).

Readers who enjoy reading historical fiction based around real historical conflicts will enjoy reading The Embroiderer, and will definitely learn more about Greece (and WWI) in the process.

The contents of a senior family member's journal at the end of the novel took the number of characters I could follow just a little too far, and I longed for a briefer method of learning what lay in her journal. I also wished for more time to linger on the details of the family business of embroidery and couture fashion during the period, my main attraction for this novel.

Having said that, if you have an interest in Greece, or are of Greek lineage yourself, you are bound to fall in love with The Embroiderer.

In conclusion, here's an excerpt from the blurb that sums up the novel really well: Set against the mosques and minarets of Asia Minor and the ruins of ancient Athens, The Embroiderer is a gripping saga of love and loss, hope and despair, and of the extraordinary courage of women in the face of adversity.

* Copy courtesy of the author *
Profile Image for Barbara Lamplugh.
Author 6 books5 followers
August 27, 2015
This novel covers a period of Turkish/Greek history I was very hazy about and brings it to life through the story of several generations of women in one particular family. The writing is rich in descriptive detail and the characters are well-drawn and consistent so that I felt involved with them and what they were going through. I got a bit confused at times because there were so many characters but this was partly due to my reading it over a long period of time. Although there are chunks of 'history lesson' inserted in places, these did help me understand the context better. All in all, I found this a highly rewarding novel and one that will stay with me.
January 19, 2015
Just finished reading The Embroiderer by Kathryn Gauci.Read this in 2 reads.It is set in Turkey and Greece from 1822-1975. Prior to reading this book I knew little about the women of this era.The book contains fascinating information about the art of embroidery but also contains details of the harsh realities of war in these times especially on womens lives.I knew little of these areas of the world and enjoyed every page of this interesting, believeable book. June Mercieca.
Profile Image for Zoe.
307 reviews4 followers
January 19, 2021
From Chios to Smyrna to Constantinople to Athens

Author's note in describing the refuge areas of Athens today,
"And whilst women no longer spill out of their doorways sitting on rush-bottomed chairs chatting to their neighbours whilst embroidering cloth for their daughter’s dowry, and basement shops selling bric-a-brac and musical instruments from the ‘old world’ are few and far between, if we look closer, the history and the spirit of these people still resonates in their everyday lives; in their music, their food, the plethora of Turkish words and phrases that punctuate the Greek language, and the ancient belief in the evil eye. Most important of all, it is through the time-honoured tradition of storytelling that their memories are kept alive."
As a Greek-American, this note resonated with me because I can remember the pride my father had for his homeland in Greece. He seldom talked about the devastation and hardships he experienced there as a young boy during WWII, but, he did talk about the "forgotten holocaust and the Armenian genocide."
I learned a great deal about the live/hate relationships between the Turks and Greeks dating back to ancient times. The courage and resilience of Dimitra, her granddaughter Sophia, and Sophia's daughter Nina, is seldom seen today. MS. Gauci's debut novel is historical fiction at its best...wars, relocations, opulence, poverty, love stories, espionage, superstition, lifetime bonds, and the art of embroidery.
Profile Image for Gwen.
127 reviews
April 19, 2020
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I enjoyed the story, tracing family histories through generations of turbulent historical times.
On the other, I often felt like I was reading a history book with moments of drama interspersed. Particularly in the early part of the book I found the factual listings of the various wars mind numbingly boring.
That is my main gripe with this book- it is descriptive. There is little character development or sense of being drawn into the intimate lives of those whose stories were being recounted. No character had anything resembling an authentic voice.
At least twice, very momentous events were covered in a few scant lines.
There were often no links between scenes, giving a very random, disjointed feel to the narrative. There were only occasional passages that achieved anything approaching a smooth flow.
The historical research appears impeccable... but the author’s ability to incorporate the events into the story’s flow was, to my mind, clumsy.
I feel this book has the bones of an engrossing saga that needs to be rewritten in a more engaging fashion.
I’m aware that most other readers don’t feel this way- this is just my experience of reading it. The fact that it took me 2 weeks to plough through gives an indication of my struggle!
Still, it’s an interesting overview of a complex area of the world with a difficult history.
Profile Image for J. Victoria.
Author 2 books11 followers
May 23, 2018
The historical and cultural scope of The Embroiderer, debut novel by Kathryn Gauci, makes this book an important and compelling read. In western culture we have studied the great wars and a number of regional ones, but few of us would know anything of the Greek War of Independence, and later, the massive exchange of population between Greece and Turkey. Millions were expelled leaving behind everything they owned and loved.
Using her extensive knowledge of this history, Ms Gauci has embroidered for us a complex and sweeping tale of love, danger, and survival. From an intriguing prologue in Chios 1822, to the final pages in London 1973, Ms Gauci has crafted this story with conviction and drama. I could smell the aromatic Sevkiye’s Pilav and feel the touch of sumptuously embroidered silk. In ill-fated Smyrna, I panicked along with the fleeing crowds and cried for the families and friends torn apart. The characters may be fictional but not the meld of elegance, bravura, hardship and despair.
The Embroiderer is a fabulous novel, with believable characters and plot lines comparable with the best-sellers in historical fiction.
July 25, 2022
I found this book far too long. At its core is a good story. Obviously well researched, but it felt like a history book masquerading as a novel so I ended up skip reading a lot of the details. It’s structured around the historical framework of the atrocities experienced by a family of women during decades of conflict. I felt it didn’t do justice to the characters or Greece’s history, but it could have. For me, there was far too much historical fact. But my main gripes were poor characterisation, lack of real emotion, and too many names/places with all the jumping back and forth it was difficult to keep track at times. Gauci can write well, I noted a few delightful phrases, however, she did not maintain a good style throughout, the narrative was clunky and wordy. It failed to engage me. The pacing was also a problem, moments where the tension could be developed to help us empathise with the characters were rushed or adversely glossed over. I think this is a novel of real potential but wonder if it has been professionally proofread as at one point I stopped to see if it was a translation. I would love to read a pared-down version where the story of the women shone brightly.
Profile Image for H.M. Holten.
Author 4 books44 followers
May 31, 2020
Unfolding an Enigmatic World
A prophecy haunts Greek-born and Turkish raised Dimitra Lamartine to such a degree that she can’t love her grandchild, Maria. Her red hair and unruly character become the Ariadne thread that leads through the maze of this tapestry of paintings, couturiers, embroideries, and priceless jewels. In the darker parts, war and violence takes over, as well as fire, murder, and secrets. On her deathbed, Maria reveals her past to Eleni, her half-sister.
The luxury and dizzying elegance that encompasses the first chapters is set off with the brutality of the war.
Gauci’s debut is historical fiction, where history vies to take over. At the same time, it is a family saga with four generations of women – living, longing, and hating. The historical backdrop is necessary but threatens to become a mere history lesson. In my opinion, this is a problem with the debut novel that reveals a female world during the end of the Ottoman empire and beyond. Without a doubt, Gauci has learned to balance history and fiction in her later books. Recommended.
Profile Image for Jo-anne Himmelman.
22 reviews1 follower
May 13, 2019
This historical journey through centuries has opened a whole new area of historical reading.

As a novice to the Greek War of Independence and the Ottoman Empire, it took me awhile to gather my head around the history and the characters. I had to keep going backwards instead of forward to get my facts straight. A glossary of characters with a short overview of their relationship with other characters would have made a real difference. Once I had accumulated the facts and became involved in the story of the families, the strong women who led the families through war, religious persecution, famine and death I couldn’t put the book down. I would recommend this book to people loving historical fiction as I do. You will definitely broaden your knowledge.
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