The history of the Ottoman Empire is a fascinating one, probably because it is a culture so very different from what I know. The Mapmaker’s Daughter by Katherine Nouri Hughes tells the tale of the captured girl from Venice who went on to become the mother of the Sultan Murad. The book was sent to me at no charge for my honest review.
About The Mapmaker’s Daughter:
The Mapmaker’s Daughter, a historical novel set in the 16th century, is the confession of Nurbanu, born Cecilia Baffo Veniero – the mesmerizing, illegitimate Venetian who became the most powerful woman in the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent—the bold backstory of the Netflix Series, Magnificent Century
Narrating the spectacular story of her rise to the pinnacle of imperial power, Queen Mother Nurbanu, on her sickbed, is determined to understand how her bond with the greatest of all Ottoman sultans, Suleiman the Magnificent, shaped her destiny – not only as the wife of his successor but as the appointed enforcer of one of the Empire’s most crucial and shocking laws. Nurbanu spares nothing as she dissects the desires and motives that have propelled and harmed her; as she considers her role as devoted and manipulative mother; as she reckons her relations with the women of the Harem; and as she details the fate of the most sophisticated observatory in the world. Nurbanu sets out to “see” the causes and effects of her loves and choices, and she succeeds by means of unflinching candor – right up to the last shattering revelation.
About the Author:
KATHERINE NOURI HUGHES, Iraqi-Irish by birth, has spent much of her career as a speech-writer. She has published two books on K-12 education, been a communications executive in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, and serves on the boards of the American University in Cairo, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and WNET/13, the public television station. She attended Princeton University where she received a Masters Degree in Near Eastern Studies. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey and has two daughters and two grandchildren. The Mapmaker’s Daughter is her first novel.
I have a basic knowledge of the Ottoman Empire but not a lot of specific knowledge. For example, I had heard of Nurbanu but I did not know her full story. I knew she came to the harem as a captured woman and used her intelligence and wit to somehow rise to ultimately become the wife of the Sultan and then the mother of another sultan.
The book is written in the form of a diary by Nurbanu as she lay in her sick bed at the end of her life. She is looking back over all she has seen in her days and being honest with herself as to her action over the years.
Her life was complicated – it had moments of happy and what seemed to be lifetimes of sadness. She grew up wealthy in Venice but there were things she did not completely understand. She was kidnapped at a young age but her intelligence brought her to the attention of Suleiman the Great which only helped her ascent.
I found the book to be, for the most part, an interesting look at a period in history that is fascinating and about which I don’t read much. When the book was immersed in more than Nurbanu’s struggles and insecurities it was a good read but for me, far too much time was spent with her pettiness. I can’t think of how else to describe it. And it did get a touch repetitive for me. She had to have been a strong woman to survive in that atmosphere from such a young age. Much of the book though does not align with traditional history. But that is the fun of the historical novel.
I will note though, that the reading of The Mapmaker’s Daughter did pique my interest to the point of a lot of googling and the desire to read more books on Nurbanu and others from the time.
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