This story has clearly been a real labour of love, and the attention to detail is very impressive indeed. Focusing on the two years from 1903 to 1905, The Gilded Cage explores the realities of life for the members of the Imperial Family of the Ottoman Empire who have been imprisoned after Sultan Murad V has been usurped by his brother. Theirs is the ‘gilded cage’ of the title – the Çirağan Palace has everything needed for a comfortable and cloistered life (including a Mistree of Coffee), but the occupants are in no doubt that spies are everywhere, and that punishments for attempting to challenge the new order are inevitable.
What struck me most about this fictional account of the Ottoman Imperial family is the role the many women played in the harem of the palace, women who become the wives and mothers of the royal men. The story starts with the birth of a prince in the household, a child who will grow up knowing nothing of the outside world. Osmanoğlu creates a world of female hierarchy and quiet control in a world where the actions of men have a significant impact on the households which surround them.
I was also struck by the way international affairs filter through and are assessed by the family. The early years of the Twentieth Century see the roots of later political turmoil being set down, and it’s fascinating to see these events from another, slightly more detached, perspective. Murad’s ‘crime’, in this telling of the narrative, is to have wished to to modernise the approach taken by the ruling family. News reaches those inside the Çirağan Palace of international tensions and developments, of attacks on those in power, and there’s a sense of the family watching and learning. Knowing what we do about the next century to come, one can’t help feel that this is a snapshot of a bubble in time, a frozen moment. The fact that we are able to look up images of this family and see the real people behind this narrative just makes it even more affecting. Even though there were one or two moments which felt overly didactic when it came to getting us up to speed on political or theological debates, this makes for a fascinating read.
My thanks to @rararesources for my review copy.
The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus
Brothers bound by blood but fated to be enemies. Can their Empire survive or will it crumble into myth?
Since his younger brother usurped the Imperial throne, Sultan Murad V has been imprisoned with his family for nearly thirty years.
The new century heralds immense change. Anarchy and revolution threaten the established order. Powerful enemies plot the fall of the once mighty Ottoman Empire. Only death will bring freedom to the enlightened former sultan. But the waters of the Bosphorus run deep: assassins lurk in shadows, intrigue abounds, and scandal in the family threatens to bring destruction of all that he holds dear…
For over six hundred years the history of the Turks and their vast and powerful Empire has been inextricably linked to the Ottoman dynasty. Can this extraordinary family, and the Empire they built, survive into the new century?
Set against the magnificent backdrop of Imperial Istanbul,The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus is a spellbinding tale of love, duty and sacrifice.
Evocative and utterly beguiling,The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus is perfect for fans of Colin Falconer, Kate Morton and Philippa Gregory.
Ayşe Osmanoğlu is a member of the Imperial Ottoman family, being descended from Sultan Murad V through her grandfather and from Sultan Mehmed V (Mehmed Reşad) through her grandmother. After reading History and Politics at the University of Exeter, she then obtained an M.A. in Turkish Studies at SOAS, University of London, specialising in Ottoman History. She lives in the UK with her husband and five children.
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