Until he married Liana, he had longed for family, and now he was wrapped in it as tightly as she. If they left here, what would they take with them that would anchor them? How would the children grow, with no sense of who they were or whose they were or where they belonged? It would be like falling off the edge of the earth. No, there was no point in even discussing it. A man like Ara, a man who had lost everything—such a man could make a home in a new place. But not a person who had to give up so much to leave. He couldn’t even imagine what America must be like, filled with people who had left their homes. Filled with people who had let go of their anchors.
It is 1908 and Smyrna is the most cosmopolitan city on the Mediterranean Sea. Though long a part of the Ottoman Empire, Smyrna has been largely Greek for thousands of years, and its citizens honor the traditions of previous generations. The Demirgis and Melopoulos families are no different, and now Liana Demirgis will wed the only Melopoulos son, Vasili---a marriage arranged by their parents.
After the wedding Liana and Vasili build an idyllic life for themselves and their children outside the busy city, safe from rising political tensions roiling the region and the world. But less than a decade later, the growing divisions between Greeks and Turks threaten to boil over. When each country chooses a different side with the outbreak of the Great War, a hunger to reclaim Smyrna consumes Greece. Suddenly the young Melopoulos family, like thousands of others, are thrust into danger . . . and many will not survive.
Listen to Sarah Shoemaker discuss her upcoming book Children of the Catastrophe with Harper's Executive Editor, Sara Nelson in The Library Love Fest's Podcast.
Why did you write Children of the Catastrophe?
In the years that I lived in Turkey and, later, in Greece, I heard almost nothing about the time that has been called "the catastrophe."But later, back in the States, I learned from a family friend, of Greek heritage, that his father had come to the United States all alone as a young child at that time. His parents had not had the money for the whole family to leave Smyrna because of the extremely high fares the boats charged for these desperate people to escape. So they pooled their money and sent their oldest child by himself. Somehow George's father got to Detroit, grew up, and raised his own family.
Years later, when our friend was on a Mediterranean cruise, the ship stopped at Izmir (the Turkish name for Smyrna), and our friend, who had planned to see the city of his inheritance, could not bring himself to disembark from the ship, so upset was he over what had happened to his father and his father's family, who did not survive that terrible time.
That story has rolled around my head for a number of years, until I finally decided to write it.