Interview with Nermin Bezmen, Author of Kurt Seyit ve Sura: Part I—Nermin
When I stumbled onto Kurt Seyit ve Sura on Netflix last year, I had just launched two WW I era novels based on characters from Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. So when I saw Kurt Seyit was set during WWI, I had to watch it.
Like so many other North Americans, I fell in love with not only the lead actor Kivanc Tatlitug, but Seyit and Sura as well. I found myself thinking about the couple's haunting story weeks after I'd finished the last episode. When I learned the series was based on a true story, it only endeared me to Seyit and Sura all the more.
I'm thrilled to welcome Nermin Bezmen to Part I of a two-part interview. Today we'll find out all about Nermin, the granddaughter of Seyit and author of Kurt Seyt and Shura, which is the real story behind the TV series Kurt Seyit ve Sura on Netflix.
Next week in Part II we'll hear all about her exciting experience meeting Kivanç on the set of Kurt Seyit ve Sura as they were filming! We'll also find out where she first saw Kivanç (it wasn't on TV!), her impressions of him, her interactions with other actors and producers, and what it was like watching them film the magnificent series. We'll also hear about how her husband, actor Tolga Savacı, was cast as Yahya in the TV series.
GM: Thanks for stopping by today, Nermin. What a thrill to have your grandfather’s story come to life on screen!
NB: Thank you, dear Ginger. I am so happy that while surfing the internet a few months ago, I saw your comments about the Kurt Seyt & Shura series and was delighted to read your very detailed and passionate review. I was overwhelmed by your professional but sincere approach towards my story and heroes. It is my pleasure to answer your questions and reach out to those dear fans following your blog.
GM: Tell us how your novel came to be chosen for a TV series and what your reaction was to the news.
From the first day Kurt Seyt & Shura hit the bookstores and became a bestseller, it has attracted TV and screen producers’ attention. Although a film adaptation was my ultimate dream, I convinced myself to wait for the best offer and listen for my inner voice to say, “That’s it! Go ahead!” I knew that as soon as my novel was in the hands of a production company, the outcome would not be the exact image of what I had written.
Commercial, technical, and financial constraints, the interpretations of screen writers, directors and actors, as well as the choices of costumes, locations, and the musical score all bundle up to become a whole new work.
But of all the offers came, I never felt very enthusiastic and contented for I am very protective over my work since I put so much heart and soul into it.
Then, one morning in December 2012, the CEO of Ay Yapim called. He said they wanted to adopt Kurt Seyt & Shura into a TV series. When I met with him and his son, I immediately knew they were the perfect people to share Kurt Seyt & Shura with. They had almost memorized the scenes that affected them most and were visualizing how spectacular it would be.
Then the screen writer Ece Yörenç came in. I could see her excitement immediately. She had read the book years ago and always wished she could adapt it for the screen. It did not even take one hour to shake hands.
In May 2013, the first episode was ready and the cast chosen. For the Istanbul scenes, a whole Pera neighborhood was built outside İstanbul from scratch. Costumes and jewellery were tailor-made for each actor.
At the beginning of December 2013, the director called, "Action!" Everything went fast and on time just because the whole production team was so passionate about this project.
GM: That is so exciting! I understand that Seyt and Shura's story was passed on to you by your grandmother Murvet (Seyt's wife). Would you share a little about her and tell us about
NB: I come from a family whose ancestors were refugees or immigrants and chose İstanbul as their second homeland.
My grandmother Murka (Mürvet) was a second generation of immigrants from Romania. Her grandparents had been high ranking members of a very cultured class. Everything changed when they had to flee to İstanbul. She lacked the self-confidence Shura had. Many of the things that Shura’s upbringing allowed were either “sinful” or “shameful” for Murka. They were from two completely different worlds.
I know all of this from what my grandma told me. But when I got to know her better in later years, long after Kurt Seyt has passed away, she had become a brave and self-confident woman who managed to struggle alone and succeed. I am sure my grandpa would be proud of her.
As for me, I was born and grew up in Turkey. But during my senior year in high school I won an AFS (American Field Service) scholarship and studied one year in Henderson, Nevada. I graduated from High School as an A+ student and was chosen a senior ball queen. That was a great year that had a great impact on my life. After that I made countless trips to the States, both for business and pleasure.
Last year I and my actor husband Tolga Savaci moved to New Jersey permanently to pursue our professions in America.
GM: What made you so passionate about Seyt and Shura's story that you undertook the enormous project of writing a novel about them?
NB: My mom introduced me to books when I was two years old. By the time I was nine, I had a great collection stories, myths, and folktales. My imagination was full of heroes and heroines. But on top of every story and hero, my grandpa was my favorite. I had never known him, but he was no stranger to me. I had been listening to his adventures and looking at his sepia photograph taken in his uniform. He was my true prince hero from another time, from lands whose borders have changed, and from people whose lives have vanished.
My grandma Murka was a great storyteller, and she told me about my grandpa with great enthusiasm. I could hear the character's voices and even their heartbeats.
When I was five or six years old I remember saying, “Among all the heroes I keep reading about, why is my grandpa’s life not told? Why does he not have a book with his name on it?”
As I grew up and heard more about Kurt Seyt’s life, I became more and more enchanted with him. Then, years later, I decided to do something about my family saga. I was the last generation who knew about it, and I had to be the bridge with my past and future. So, for two years I listened to my grandma, this time with more attention, taking down notes, not only about the story she was telling, but also her gestures and mimics. When my obsession was combined with my grandma’s detailed and passionate storytelling, I knew that this was not going to be just a memory booklet but something much bigger.
This first novel was intended to be about Seyt and Murka, but Shura, my grandpa’s big love with whom he shared so much, simply took over the heroine’s place. And I decided to separate Kurt Seyt's story with each woman, as each deserved her name on a novel written just for her. So after Kurt Seyt & Shura, came Kurt Seyt & Murka to carry the story on.
GM: I understand that the TV series took a lot of liberties with the story to make it suitable for a TV series. Can you give us a sneak peek into the real story and tell us a dozen or so differences between what we saw on Netflix and the real story?
NB: Indeed the series had to be altered and some parts fabricated due to the requirements of a TV series. Here are some of the differences:
-Petro was never after Shura, but some other lady character of the novel…
-Petro’s fate did not allow him to come to İstanbul at all. The real story, which is recounted in my novel, will save the reader from all that anger and hatred they felt while watching the series.
-Yasef Zargovich, although he was among the Reds, did not set Kurt Seyit up when he was fleeing Crimea. On the contrary, he was the one who was part of the plot… But he had one “must” that Kurt Seyt had to follow, and that was…
-The Eminof family was not killed at the time Seyit was about to flee, but their lives ended tragically some time later.
-When Kurt Seyt left Alushta, he was in tears leaving his young brother Osman on the shore, dead. But… recently I found out that Osman did not die. He was saved by the fisherman who helped Kurt Seyit run away. Osman had a whole different but tragic life in Communist Russia.
-The red-haired Baroness is not a character in the novel either. But there is one Baroness back in Russia with whom Kurt Seyit had his first sex, and it was a one night adventure only.
-After arriving in İstanbul in Şeref Hotel, Seyit and his friends were offered a job on one of the farms in Anatolia where they had to get rid of bandits and run away back to İstanbul.
-Ali Dayı was just another guest at the hotel, not the manager.
-Kurt Seyt never owned a hotel, but after his laundromat business, he opened restaurants and nightclubs, which incidentally were introduced to Istanbul by White Russians like himself.
-Yahya (who was played by my husband Tolga Savacı) was a cousin and also a partner of Kurt Seyt in quite a few restaurant businesses.
-Mürvet was immediately head over hills in love with Kurt Seyit when she saw his photograph.
-Celil and Tatya never separated. There was no Güzide for Celil and no Güzide for Yahya.
-Yahya did not commit suicide like in the series.
On the contrary, he had a very happy, healthy long life.
-Shura’s parents never met Seyit, and Tina was never the reason for their separation.
-Seyit was never put to jail by the English or anybody else then. However, years later he was in police custody for badly beating up a child molester.
GM: Were there any particularly memorable moments in writing the novel?
While I was writing, my thoughts and dreams were all about Kurt Seyt & Shura. I would only sleep when my eyes could not see clearly from writing and crying, and that was never longer than three hours. And even those few hours were filled with my story. Either my grandpa or Shura would appear and take me on a tour in St. Petersburg, Moscow, or Alushta… I would dream of them together in a place I did not know anything about and listen to their conversation… I was there with them, just standing and witnessing. They were powerful and almost live scenes, and I used most of them the next morning when started writing.
One of these scenes was where Kurt Seyit was running away from the Bolsheviks to reach the fisherman’s boat to escape to Turkey. I had already written the name of the chapter before going to bed at five in the morning.
In my forty-five minutes of sleep, I had a dream showing me the escape scene from the hills of Alushta. I was standing at the edge of the hill and watching my grandpa send the guns down the hill that he was taking to the Nationalist’s Army in Turkey. Then the action started. I heard the gunshots, the screams, yelling, and curses of the Bolsheviks…
I heard Osman’s scream, calling for his big brother Seyit… Then all of a sudden, the moon came out of the black clouds and there it was, a gorgeous scene that almost looked like a mythological and mystical tableau. And then everything was chaos. Bolsheviks catching up with young Osman, my grandpa in despair…and the rest followed.
I woke up with the urge that I should immediately write it down before I forgot. Then I realized I had only slept about forty-five minutes. I sat down at my computer feeling warm with a strange sensation like I had just made a time trip to seventy years ago and come back. The sound of the guns, the screams, the waves, the smell in the air, the mysterious light of the moon was all there with me.
I started writing exactly what I dreamed with a great speed, afraid to lose the fresh emotions and the sensation from my dream. But, rather strangely, I saw a very elegant pine tree standing a few feet from the shore in the sea water. It had bent over to one side on a piece of rock. I did not care whether a pine tree could really live in sea water or not. It was a very theatrical detail that was real for me, and I could not help but write it too.
After Kurt Seyt & Shura was published, I visited Crimea for the first time with my late husband, searching after the footsteps of my grandpa. When we stopped at the top of the hill overlooking the shore where my grandpa made his escape, we looked down. And there were no words… I took a deep sigh and then I was breathless… tears were rolling down my face… My heart was pounding and I felt like some unseen wings would just lift me up and fly me away… Just a few feet away from the pebbled shore was a pine tree growing out of the sea, bent over a little rock… My husband was crying too….
GM: What an AMAZING story! Now we all just HAVE to read your novel to read about that escape for ourselves! Were you surprised that North Americans would respond to Kivanc, the show, and your
grandfather's story with such enthusiasm?
NB: This story, although from lands far away, is an eternal story encompassing all the human aspects— love, hate, lust, passion, bravery, war, revolution, adventure, heart-break, loss, yearning, guilt, vulnerability… Everything about humans and everything about real life is there. It is almost like a fairytale, but a true story. This combination told with gusto touches people's hearts. And when you touch a person's heart, you also capture their thoughts and dreams.
Kıvanç, with his great talent and charisma, brought Kurt Seyt to the screen in the best possible way.
The production and other actors were superb as well. The music was beautiful and touching. All together it was a feast to the eye, ear, heart, and soul.
This novel has been published in eleven languages, and the series has been a hit all over the world. But with each new fan group, I still get excited and happy. I am especially happy that my story was loved here in America since it is my hope and dream to reach the American reader not only with the Kurt Seyt saga but also my other seventeen books.
GM: Do you have plans to release Kurt Seyt & Murka and the other books in the series in English?
NB: It all depends how American readers respond to Kurt Seyt & Shura. If it's satisfactory then the five sequels will follow:
- Kurt Seyt & Murka
- Mengene Göçmenleri (The Immigrants of Mengan)
- Shura - Paris Years 1924-1927
- Dedem Kurt Seyt & Ben (My Grandpa Kurt Seyt and I)
- Bir Harp Gelini (The War-time bride)
GM: Tell us why you think fans of the TV series will love the Kurt Seyt & Shura novel.
They will love the novel because it is real. Kurt Seyt & Shura starts with Seyit’s birth in 1892 with a short background of Crimea and Eminofs. Then, readers witness Seyit growing up, becoming a man, soldier, lover, refugee and so on…
Touching the pages and looking at the photographs in the back as they read will take readers on a voyage. Every period of his life is narrated with the utmost physical, psychological, and social details. The reader can just move into the story and float away with the characters.
The series added scenes and excluded others due to censorship, but in the novel they are told in a very poetic way. Editorial reviewers agree it is sensual, passionate, and poetic, and I put my heart and soul into it.
GM: Wow! That was so interesting, Nermin. Thanks for sharing your story with us.
NB: I thank you and the fans also on behalf of Kurt Seyt, Shura and the other heroes and heroines. I am sure now they are all watching from the heavens with great delight.
GM: Where can we buy Kurt Seyt & Shura?
•The US link to Amazon is here.
•Kindle e-book instant download is here.
•Outside the US? Buy the paperback here.
I'll leave readers with an excerpt of the novel—a lovely romantic moment between Seyt and Shura. Enjoy!
Tatiana poured the tea and moved to the piano. She started with a theme from Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor. The reckless fight between the Crimean Tatar Khan Kontchak and Prince Igor, the sand and snowstorms of the North and the steppes of Asia, the sinuous oriental dances of the Tatar girls intended to seduce Prince Igor, the brutality of the warriors, and the pounding of their steeds’ hooves all seemed to come to life on the keys. Shura joined in the cheers when Tatiana had finished.
Celil’s grin narrowed his slanted Tatar eyes into slits. ‘You know, Tatya plays this piece so well because she’s in love with me!’ His outburst drew happy laughter from the rest. Tatiana’s next offering was a jolly tune called Chupchik in a lively rhythm that sounded as though it were composed to flatter the pianist’s nature. The officers accompanied the song that filled the room, which cheered them all up even more. When she launched into the fourth and final scene of Swan Lake, a profound silence fell over the room. Shura was reliving the sad tale they had watched only the previous night. Skirting the back of the piano, she stood by the French window that invited the garden into the house. Despite the early hour, it was as dark as evening. All that kept the snow clouds in the sky from descending to the earth seemed to be the tall trees. The blizzard concealed what lay beyond them: the wrought iron garden furniture immediately outside the window, the broad marble planters, and the tiny pond. Shura crossed her arms, shivering at the scene and the sorrowful tune. She turned her head when an arm hugged her shoulder, and felt safe again at the warmth of Seyit’s lips on her forehead. She laid her head against his chest without a protest. That peculiar sensation, just like the time when they had just met, was back again: a cramp in her stomach, the racing of her heart, and an inexplicable thrill. Just like that time. A feeling that something new was about to happen, something that would change her life. They never even noticed the other couple’s silent departure. Locked in an embrace, they watched the snow rapidly filling the garden, pondering what to do next. Shura was alone with a strange man for the first time in her life. As concerned about losing him as being mistaken for a loose wench, she waited in his arms, frozen to the spot, fearful of saying or doing anything that might be interpreted as an invitation. As Seyit’s lips wandered on her thick blond braids, he too waited, reluctant to frighten her off or receive a rebuff, conscious of her innocent complaisance. They enjoyed each other’s warmth in silence for quite a while. He was amazed at himself; he had never experienced such serenity in a relationship to this day. What could he possibly expect of this little girl, at any rate? Yet he had never felt this degree of peace and thrill with anyone else. An utterly unexpected desire washed over him, a desire to hug her tight and cover her hair and face with kisses. Gently stroking her under the chin, he lifted her head. Now he could see the quivering twinkles in her large blue eyes. Her resistance crumbling before that passionate gaze, Shura closed her eyes in a sign of submission and parted her lips. The taste of that unpainted, fresh and plump mouth – too timid to respond as yet – whipped his ardour. Tender as his hold was, he recognised his growing impatience to discover the delicate curves concealed by the folds of fabric. Shura’s feet left the floor as he gripped her waist tighter. She wrapped her arms around his neck and laid her head on his chest, afraid of opening her eyes. He lowered her onto the sofa without releasing the embrace. That she was not entirely impervious to his fiery kisses and caresses was indicated by her arms still wrapped around his neck.
The warm breath wandering on her ears, throat and neck was as intoxicating as the wine she had drunk. All she had to do to stop him, to save herself from this sweet slavery was a single sign - a fleeting thought that was waved away equally swiftly. She had no wish to lose this stranger who proffered such ineffable pleasure. She had to get to know him better, experience all the love he could give. The warmth from the fireplace stoked their bodies. Shura half opened her eyes for a glance at the face where shadows played in the half-light of the fire, curious about his intentions. She sensed that look in his eyes again, the look that made her feel half naked. Dreadfully self-conscious, she turned her head to the side. Seyit rose on his elbow and placed a palm on her cheek. ‘My beautiful darling, look at me. I want you to look at me. Don’t look away.’ Shura did as he asked in response to his impassioned, albeit tender, plea. The lust in his eyes made her blush furiously, as did the appellation of darling. A magical word that made her heart flutter. Seyit held her gaze as he kissed her palm and slipped his lips towards her wrist. Shura was trembling from top to toe. Timidly, and ever so slowly, her right hand reached out to his head. Her fingers ran through his straight sandy hair in a touch that shook them both.
Freeing her left hand from his hold, she touched his face, now painted a different colour by the light of the flames. Her fingertips tentatively followed the line of his forehead and prominent cheekbones. Her index finger settled in the deep cleft in his chin for a while before moving back up to the forehead to resume caressing his face as if to memorise his features. Seyit knew he had never felt such singular pleasure in his twenty-four years. He was astonished at this gentle, warm and calm love that had such power to arouse him. The innocent and affectionate caresses of a girl eight years his junior, a virgin, had invoked a tenderness whose absence had been freezing his heart, a tenderness he had been missing for years. She was different from all the women he had ever known.
*Images of Nermin and her family all used with permission.
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Copyright @ 2018 Ginger Monette Article reprint policy
Own your copy of Kurt Seyt & Shura today! •Amazon US
Connect with Nermin online!
•Official website: KurtSeytAndShura.com
•Official Facebook page: "Kurt Seyt & Shura English."
•Official Instagram: @kurtseytandshura
•Part II of Nermin's interview, Behind the Scenes with Kivanc Tatlitug, is here.
•Don't miss my review of Kurt Seyit ve Sura, now streaming on Netflix.
•Also my post on the Historical Context of Kurt Seyit ve Sura.
Bio: Nermin Bezmen is an accomplished artist, art teacher, yoga instructor and broadcaster whose meticulous research into family history led to the publication of Kurt Seyt & Shura in 1992. This fictionalised account of her grandfather’s life became an instant bestseller, and is now considered to be a masterpiece of contemporary Turkish literature to the extent that it has reached textbook status in several secondary schools and universities. Exquisite detail distinguishes her writing as she proves that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and that our ancestors call out to us all from the pages of history. Her powerful character analysis and storytelling skills invite the readers to explore their own dreams, sorrows, anxieties and even fleeting fancies. Bezmen has to date published fifteen novels, two of which are biographical, and one is a fantasy; a children’s novel, a collection of forty short stories and a book of poems. She has two children and three grandchildren and lives with her husband, actor Tolga Savacı in New Jersey and Istanbul.