If you’ve known it, you’re fortunate: a love that never ends, even when you’re torn apart by careers or distance or life circumstances – possibly even surviving the end of the relationship itself. This describes “Seyt and Shura” (“Kurt Seyit ve Şura”), a Turkish television drama exploring the lives of a Russian aristocrat and a Turkish soldier from Crimea loyal to the tsar. Set in 1916 and forward, the romantic historical drama begins in St. Petersburg (then Petrograd) and takes the viewer on a tumultuous journey to Alushta, Crimea all the way to British-occupied Istanbul.
A few episodes in, I was already hooked and had to know more about this story. I discovered that the main characters in the story were not only real, but that the show was based on fascinating novels written by Kurt Seyt’s granddaughter, Nermin Bezmen. The truth of this story translated strongly from Bezmen’s research and personal experiences to book to television series, and like many who watched the show, I kept crying and kept watching the gripping and heartbreaking tale unfold.
What’s more, Bezmen is exceptionally accomplished as a businessperson, artist, and author.
After finishing the series, I managed to correspond with Nermin Bezmen regarding this wonderful story. I asked her about her life and worldly experiences, and also about some details of the story and her real-life relationship with Tina, Shura’s sister.
Here follows the interview:
Tara M. Clapper: I read that you worked in business, fine arts, poetry, and journalism before becoming a novelist, and that you were even a TV host. Do you think that all of these roles involve storytelling in a different way or are otherwise connected?
Nermin Bezmen: Since my childhood my goal in life was about not going to live and die like a savannah grass but become somebody who would leave a positive trace behind. A trace that would make me remembered with a nice touch in people’s hearts and minds and even souls after I am long gone.
So, although I studied in the university to be a businesswoman and started as an executive secretary and was responsible for the purchasing and marketing departments of an important industrial firm for some years, art was always my oasis where I took refuge from a very hectic, demanding, chaotic world of business did not matter how successful I was in what ı was doing.
Imagination has always been my wings and designs, colours and words my friends to fly away from the harshness of reality.
Being a very passionate, sentimental and refined detail craving person in life, every aspect of lived past, living present and dreamed future is in my interest area.
I always loved learning, trying, challenging my self with new projects sometimes just to see how far I could go and how perfect I could be in the new adventure… the goal leaving a trace behind. This motivation and dream swept me from one job to another. I love opening my mind to new knowledge and searching deep into the new subject gives me thrills.
My darling mother introduced me to books when I was two years old and by the time I was nine my library already consisted of Chekhov whose stories I admire still.
Being involved with literature this early took me to an another dimension when I learned writing. My curiosity to learn was embedded with a vast scale of imagination thanks to all the books I read and become part of, one way or another.
My love for painting guided me through ink, water colour, “Ottoman miniature and illumination,” silk screen printing, naive, classic acrylic, oil painting, all sorts of styles just to see which one was going to answer my need of being if not eternal but at least someone close to it. My children had started school already, I quit the workshop I was attending in The Topkapı Palace and enrolled in the university exams once more and entered the Academy of Fine Arts, for restoration and plaster and wood painting.
Art is not only a voyage with a tremendous beauty that one can indulge him / herself in but also a great teacher that teaches patience, endurance, boosts imagination and passion for details.
This is exactly how my writing ability which was clearly one of my hobbies became a profession; because of art. To be more precise: the unsatisfactory moment on the canvas drove me to the arms of writing. One day I was watching the clouds rolling in and out and over of each other in tens of colors towards the Black Sea on the Bosphorous, giving the illusion like there were hundreds of wild horses galloping in the sky. I was breathless with the beauty of it and immediately started mixing my paints but… alas! By the time colors were ready the clouds were gone already… I had tears in my eyes feeling so helpless not only for missing the scene but deep down knowing that this actually was life itself; not possible to capture, keep, hide and repeat. At that moment I had a whole poem in my mind. And I said to my self “Nermin, you are more friendly with words than paints. Go, write, write and write.”
Every profession I was involved [in], including teaching art for twenty-seven years, opening more than twenty solo exhibitions, giving yoga classes, doing restoration work, being a live program tv anchor woman, helped and still helps me to write a better story. I learned a lot from each of them. They were all connected with people, artistic or not. And knowing nature and human sociology makes a great affect on writing.
And every novel’s research is like preparing a new university thesis for me.
TMC: Do you consider yourself more of a researcher, novelist, or storyteller?
NB: I am a novelist who embellishes stories with the findings of deep, very painstaking research, boundless imagination with lots of sleepless nights and tears. A novelist needs them all… at least I do.
TMC: Did you want to write novels before you started writing about Kurt Seyt, or did his story inspire you to become a novelist?
NB: I always had a dream of writing a novel which would be taken to the hearts by those who read it. On the other hand my grandpa Kurt Seyit had been my number one hero since I was very little and did not matter how many books I read he kept his special place in my heart and his story in my dreams.
Today I have seventeen published bestsellers so far but Kurt Seyt saga has and will always have a very very special place in my literary life since it is so much of my own flesh and blood. I was lucky to start with such hero, heroine and story.
TMC: From what I can tell, you never got to meet Kurt Seyt, Murka, or Shura, but you were able to meet Tina. How did you find her, and what was it like meeting her for the first time? What was your relationship like?
NB: Unfortunately, my beloved grandpa had passed away (he committed suicide in 1945) long before I was born. But I kept listening to his life stories, told by my mom and grandma since I remember myself. His photo in the Czar’s Guards’ uniform on the way back from the front, was in our library and looking at his picture while listening his adventures almost brought him back to life for me.
Murka on the other hand lived till she was ninety years old and she was in my life for fourty-one years. I spend two years everyday taking down notes listening to her memories where I could capture my grandpa’s life more than ever. And I am ever so thankful to her for all the information which she has provided me with and most of them being very painful for her to remember again.
Shura was gone from İstanbul years ago. To reach her was the most painful and stressful part of my research since it obviously seemed very unrealistic to find a person in the year of 1991 who had left in 1924 with no other trace then the knowledge about her trip to Paris. But I was obsessed. I could not eat, sleep or think of anything else than finding Shura. There was not one church or White Russian that I was not in touch with, here in İstanbul and in Paris. Alas! The records were either lost, burned or people simply died of an old age or moved from the last addresses that I could reach to.
Late Jack Deleon, whom I did not know personally but admired his books had written a short survey book on “White Russians in İstanbul.” So I called and asked him about my heroine, then not knowing her last name, her family details, etc. He offered me help in introducing me to this old Russian Baroness, only with a year age difference to Shura hoping that the two aristocrats could know each other. This is how I met Tina. When I started telling her about this beautiful, young Russian girl who left İstanbul for Paris in 1924 and she had worked in a cleaner and also in the pharmacy in İstanbul when she was here, she immediately stopped and asked: “What are you going to do with my sister’s story?”
At that second I had a chill in my spine, tears in my eyes and I could hardly restrain my self from crying out loud. The beating of my heart was drumming in my throat and ears. When I told her that Shura was my grandma’s close friend (Jack had warned me that I should not tell anything about Shura being a lover to my grandpa for I could hurt an aristocrat) and I was writing a novel about them she took my hand and led me to the living room where she showed a sepia photo on the wall. This time I could not hold my tears at all and started sobbing because she was the young woman that I had been creating a life for and telling about.
There, Shura was smiling at me from an antique frame. Everything about her that I had described in the novel after my grandma’s description (they had met once) was just perfectly confirmed.
Not feeling so good about the white lie with which I had presented my intention, two months later I wanted to confess to Tinochka. I was obliged to tell her the truth but could not tell though. I just showed her my grandpa’s photo and asked “Tinochka, do you remember this man?”
That was it… Her face turned pale, she got up from her seat and she left the room. I was torn in between being honest and having lost her forever… half an hour later she came back; her face powdered freshly to cover her tearful face and while I was expecting her kindly to say “Good bye to you.” she opened her arms and cried out: “You are my [niece]!”
We hugged and cried for minutes. Did not matter if I was really her [niece] or not. We shared something and cherished a life story of people who were so precious to us. I never asked more about Kurt Seyt and Shura, she never asked either. It was a sharing without talking… sharing of a very sad, bitter story which needed not to be talked over.
I spent seven months, every Tuesday visiting her from lunchtime to midnight. This part of my life is a novel in itself. We ate blinis, drank vodka, she played her piano, we sang, we talked, we laughed and we cried together. And one Tuesday she opened her secret room and a hope chest and gave me all the family albums, letters, cards, newspaper clippings and she said: “I trust you with my past and it is my will that one day you write my life too. My life is more exciting than Shurochka’s.” I could not help smiling. Shura obviously was a woman envied by so many other woman, specially by Murka and also by her own sister, although in a different way of course.
And the next Tuesday morning when I was getting ready to go out to visit her as usual, I received a phone call that she had passed away that very same morning. For me this tragic news’ affect was not only about loosing this extraordinary new friend but also loosing Shura and Kurt Seyit for the second time.
TMC: What was your involvement (if any) in making the show?
NB: Besides providing the main story; not only with the details in the novel but also the ones that I had not used while writing but could be essential for a TV show, I was in the process as a scenario consultant.
On the other hand, since I my self have written a few scenarios before, I perfectly well know that the math of a literary work and screen is so different from each other and some changes have to be done. So from time to time we had discussions with the scenario writer and the production leaders, about how things would take direction other that the real story. They added few people who was not actually in Kurt Seyt’s life and kept some of them alive more than they actually lived and killed some of them long before they died in reality. So TV fans will only know the perfect answers for their questions when they read the book itself. (The e-book version is available in English on Kobo.com.)
TMC: As you researched and learned from Tina, did your feelings about Seyt and Shura change?
NB: Not a bit. Tinochka was an essential missing link to complete the names and relations of the family members, their bonded realities, addresses, etc. Other than that what ever I imagined about Shura’s voice, likings, dislikes, quiet, passionate, demure but courageous character… everything was exactly like I told to my reader.
In the novel when I wanted to choose a specific flower that she likes I had given a long thought. She was not any other woman. Roses, carnations or orchids would not be right for her. So I thought of blue irises. When I met Tina, the novel was already finished but I was keeping it at the printing house for the last details. I could not help myself asking Tina which flower Shura liked most. The answer gave goose bumps on my skin. She simply said: “Blue irises.”
So when I visited her grave in L.S years later I took a bunch of blue irises and laid on her graveyard. I felt like as if she was smiling at me from behind…
I cried a lot for my grandpa Kurt Seyt and for Shura while I was writing. There were days and night when I could not see the words from my tears. My heart and soul was torn into pieces and with that heavy burden I kept on writing. The more I wrote the more I loved them. The more I loved the more I wanted to tell about them. They were almost whispering to my ears. It was a magical time altogether.
TMC: Politically, things are really complicated here in the US. I found that the show gave me more of a historical basis for understanding modern Turkey, Crimea, and Russia. As someone who studied in the US, is there anything you wish more Americans knew about these places?
NB: I believe not only in the US but in every country, people should wonder and learn about other parts of the world and cultures and history of other people. Only and only then we may all get closer to understand each other instead of being constant “the other” for each other.
We should all consider taking history more seriously, learning it from different aspects and views so we can come to a more understanding conclusion.
It is a very obvious human psychology that every one who is part of the same event has a different story when you ask them. Ten people; ten stories. Every one of us have a different way of capturing, feeling and remembering things.
If we keep ourselves open to the learning how the others think, feel and remember we may not heal what has happened before but can prevent the future failure.
I also believe that art, music and literature can be a great healer for all the doomed and weak niches of the humankind.
That is why I write with a tendency of not convincing my reader to like or dislike any of my antagonists and protagonists. I research, I work very tediously about their historical and cultural facts, character structure and I write with the pride to bring them to life as much true as possible and let my reader to decide who ever to like or hate or envy. The reader should make her/his judgement free from writer’s personal dictation in disguise.
I send all my best wishes to dear fans of Kurt Seyt & Shura with the hope that they will be able to read my novels with an English print one day.
How to Learn More About Kurt Seyt and Shura
You can purchase the e-book in English here. I have it and can’t wait to read it.
Want to watch the show? It’s available now in the United States on Netflix. Beyond a beautiful story, it has a very moving score, soulful acting, and locations that will make you want to travel immediately. The show stars Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ as Kurt Seyit Eminof and Farah Zeynep Abdullah as Alexandra “Şura” Verjenskaya.
Author’s note: I truly believe there is something special and magical about this story. I’m an enthusiastic fan of many tales, but this one is exceptional. It has fairytale scenes and gritty, realistic moments; Shura well represents the simultaneous strength and fragility of her country.
If you have any further comments, please leave them below and I will make sure Nermin sees them.