Fire and Sky

A young adult manuscript, complete at 68,000 words

It’s 1922 in the Ottoman Empire. Greek teen Elisavet and her Turkish best friend Sevi live in the Mediterranean city of Smyrna, where they support each other’s dreams, even if their parents don’t. Elisavet or Veta, as she’s called, wants to be an astronomer, which is unheard of for a young woman. Sevi, who’s a genius with her Singer sewing machine, imagines living in Paris, designing the latest fashions.

But the girls’ dreams are cut short when the Greek-Turkish War ends and ethnic violence racks their city. With the Greek army in defeat and the Ottoman Empire crumbling, a new nationalist Turkish government takes over with the goal of ridding Smyrna of every last ethnic Greek.

Although Veta and Sevi cling to their friendship at first, complications soon arise. When Veta’s Greek boyfriend, Andreas, says that Turks “are not even human,” Veta doesn’t push back. Sevi, too, seems to be growing more partisan, but on the pro-Turkish side.

As the anti-Greek violence in Turkey slides into genocide, 250,000 Greek and Armenian refugees are trapped on Smyrna’s quay with their lives in danger. When Veta is swept up in a real-life rescue plan led by her employer, Mr. Asa Jenningsshe learns that the actions of even one person can make a big difference.

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More about Fire and Sky

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My grandmother Georgia (right) with her sister Irini.

Fire and Sky is based on true events and relates to my own family’s Ottoman Empire past. In 1919, the Greek army, which included my grandfather, marched into the Turkish interior in a bid to create a modern Greek Empire. In retaliation in 1922, the Turkish army under Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) destroyed the Greek-held Turkish city of Smyrna (present-day Izmir), where my grandmother was born and grew up.

Although Veta and Sevi are fictional characters, Veta’s employer, Asa Jennings, is a real-life hero who saved 250,000 people. Every scene in my novel that deals with Mr. Jennings, the rescue, and what was happening in Smyrna at the time is based on detailed research by other writers, including many first-hand accounts. Of particular use to me in crafting this story was journalist Lou Ureneck’s singular book, Smyrna 1922.

The Greek and Turkish War of 1919 to 1922 was followed by a forced population exchange. One and a half million Christians (ethnic Greeks) from Turkey were sent to Greece, while half a million Muslims from Greece were resettled in Turkey. The Treaty of Lausanne became a notorious model for future ethno-religious “purification” treaties (such as that between Pakistan and India in 1947) for the rest of the 20th century.