Synopses & Reviews
Detective, polyglot, chef, eunuch--Investigator Yashim returns in this evocative Edgar® Award-winning series set in Istanbul at the end of the Ottoman Empire
Istanbul, 1838. In his palace on the Bosphorus, Sultan Mahmud II is dying and the city swirls with rumors and alarms. The unexpected arrival of a French archaeologist determined to track down lost Byzantine treasures throws the Greek community into confusion. Yashim Togalu is once again enlisted to investigate. But when the archaeologists mutilated body is discovered outside the French embassy, it turns out there is only one suspect: Yashim himself. As the body count starts to rise, Yashim must uncover the startling truth behind a shadowy society dedicated to the revival of the Byzantine Empire, encountering along the way such vibrant characters as Lord Byron's doctor and the Sultan's West Indies-born mother, the Valide. With striking wit and irresistible flair, Jason Goodwin takes us into a world where the stakes are high, betrayal is death--and the pleasure to the reader is immense.
About the Author
Jason Goodwin is the author of The Janissary Tree and Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire among other books of nonfiction.
Reading Group Guide
1. Yashim has a special place in Istanbul because he is a eunuch. He is a "listener", a "protector" and "not entirely a man". He has access to Topkapi Palace, reaching levels as high as the Valide, the Sultans mother, but is also comfortable with farmers and money lenders. How else does Yashims station help him in his investigation? How does it affect his relationships and his interactions with others?
2. In The Snake Stone, there are many characters, and the city of Istanbul itself may be considered one of them. Early in the novel, LeFevre gives a brief history of the city, as well as an introduction to some of its many names: Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul. How does the character of Istanbul shape and influence the story? Can you think of other cites youve visited whose long history continues to shape them today?
3. On a similar note, Istanbul and the Ottomans were always at the crossroads of East and West. This continues in modern day Turkey where the traditional and Islamic are constantly battling with more secular, Western lifestyles. How does Goodwin address this tension in the novel?
4. One point that Goodwin mentions repeatedly is the Sultans focus on bringing Western dress to Istanbul, in particular, the change from the turban to the Fez. Yashim, however, prefers to wear a turban. His friend George-the market vendor whose beating begins the novel-also wears his own traditional dress: the "brimless, blue cap and black slippers that defined him as a Greek." Discuss how the characters clothes do more than define there place in society - do they also move the story forward in some way?
5. One of the most interesting aspects of The Snake Stone is the way the author gives a full picture of the city and all its varied ethnic groups. For example, the main focus of Yashims investigations through much of the novel is the Hetira. Discuss how this cultural diversion brings tension to the story.
6. Although we primarily see the story through Yashims eyes, Goodwin also gives us a taste of whats happening outside his range of vision. Often, these events are happening simultaneously. The most interesting example of this is when Amelie LaFevre is trying to get into Aya Sofia and Yashim is moving through the water tunnels looking for Xanis body. What does this kind of storytelling do for the novel? Does it heighten the suspense for the readers to know what Yashim does not?
7. As a Pole, Stanislaw Palewski is distinctly an outsider in Istanbul and a very good friend to Yashim. Does he give a perspective to the investigation that the characters native to Istanbul cannot? Or is his importance in the story more closely related to what is hidden in his cupboard?
8. Food and cooking play a big part in Yashims life and in this novel. Why do you think the author would choose to write about Yashims cooking in such fine detail?
9. Yashim also says that the Ottomans had been perfecting the subtleties of flavor and spices centuries earlier while Europeans were still eating meat off the bone with their fingers. Do Turkish and Middle Eastern food still reflect this today? Does an American hamburger or an English roast beef seem more appealing to you than one of Yashims carefully crafted dolma?
10. Yashim is not a detective by trade, rather, he is forced to find Max LeFevres killer to prevent himself from being named as such. Does this give Yashims search greater urgency than if he were a hired detective or a government official? How would the story have been different if he was?
11. The "snake stone" of the title literally refers to the Medusa statue hidden in Istanbuls water tunnels, and eventually links the watermens guild to the protection of the relics that LeFevre and others are searching for. Can you see other, more subtle references and allusions implied by the title?
12. In the beginning of the book, Max LeFevre tells Yashim and Palewski that he believes everything he reads in books. The Gyllius- the book Max LeFevre leaves in Yashims apartment-is what leads him and his wife Amelie to believe that there is hiding place under Aya Sofia. There is a thread about myth and reality in this novel which is illustrated in the example of the Gyllius. Even after Yashim pieces together the mystery of the relics, the watermen, and the serpent heads, the valide reminds him, and the reader, that one should never believe everything they read. How do the history and myths of Istanbul help deliver this cliché-turned-lesson in this novel?