“More powerful than the largest bomb going off.… The ending is shocking…highly charged, electrifying.”
In The Healer’s Daughters, we also hear from a terrorist. Here he is, driving to the Acropolis:
Osama Flynn does not look back at the beardless man. He rolls up the window and shifts into four-wheel drive. His mouth goes dry, but it doesn’t matter. As adrenaline erupts, surging and spiking, he sucks in his breath. It’s a go! The mission’s a fuckin’ go! Beyond the final checkpoint! Beyond the point of no return! Allahu Akbar!
He drums the steering wheel with both hands. The air is bright, swirling, the day itself aflame with vengeance and righteousness. All for the greater glory of God! His hands shake, but it’s not the fuckin’ jitters. Not at all! He’s ready. All in! Spoiling for the fight!
Oracles speak in the The Healer’s Daughters. Here is the first one:
False gods, all—though all be real.
We dwell on this hill, now scarred and overrun. We reside by the once whispering river, now dammed. We inhabit the sacred grove—or what is left of it. Consecrated stray dogs lie among us with the once worshipped snakes and goats, cats and cocks. Above us, the debased remnants of that wondrous Altar of Zeus. And not far off, the Aesklepion’s blessed, still flowing fountain.
We live in time and without. All is present to us, past and future. We speak through time. Listen. The earth quakes at our words.
What now? Chaos yet again, plunder and massacres. Newborns wail, and the mortally wounded howl. We taste dust and ash. We smell smoke in the olive branches—and blood and dung. Devastation. Greed and lust. Folly and hubris. Evil rolls this way.
There are other ways, of course, but you only ask for help when you are already lost.
The Healer’s Daughters includes five original illustrations. To create these, I worked with Jonathan Smith, a teacher, artist, and writer living in İzmir, Turkey. Jonathan’s talent is immense and I am thankful for his contributions to the book.
Here is the first illustration, showing the region around Bergama (and ancient Pergamon).
The Healer’s Daughters involved three years of research in Turkey. I’d like to share some photos from my travels around that fascinating country. Here are two to begin.
This is the object that Tuğçe Iskan gazes at while she is accosting Recep Ateş outside his Ministry of Culture office in Bergama.
The Bergama Archaeological Museum, which shares the grounds with the Ministry of Culture office, holds an excellent collection of Hellenistic artefacts, including this statue of a water nymph from the Allianoi excavation site.
“An exceptional thriller that proves hard to put down.”
The Healer’s Daughters has been reviewed by Diane Donovan of the Midwest Book Review. The review will appear in print and online in August, 2019. I will post the link when it’s available. Here is the full review. What do you think? (Update: here is the link on Diane Donovan’s website.)
The Healer’s Daughters is a thriller set in Turkey, where archaeologist Özlem Boroğlu and her daughter Elif face not just archaeological discoveries, but the pressing influence of political forces with vested interests in the outcome of their work.
As terrorists and corrupt officials influence their actions and threaten their lives, Özlem finds herself more than the protector of healer Galen’s ruins. She becomes the pawn in a larger game that threatens her entire family.
Added into the mix of intrigue and confrontation are historical flashbacks to Galen’s time, Elif’s own pursuit of art that reflects her worship of the Goddess, and an investigation into grave robberies by Tuğçe Iskan, who is also moving closer to a truth that holds much wider consequences than local trouble.
The Healer’s Daughters is replete with insights on Turkish culture. The characters all have Turkish roots and identities that may initially stymie Westerners unused to these names, but which lend to the authenticity of the background and events being described.
The process of archaeological investigations that lead to a treasure hunt is nicely described (“Galen’s reference to the scent of pine led Boroğlu out of the Kaikos Valley into the hills rising to Kapıkaya, and poor little Mehmet’s possession of the Hadrian Aureus confirmed that she is on the right track. And now, she has these two specific sites. She even gave Serkan the detailed geological map of the valley around Pergamon that she had painstakingly made. Let the Hamits dither around on their extensive land holdings in the valley. They, especially Mustafa, the overeducated, pompous son, have no real understanding of archeology and no chance of finding Galen’s treasure on their own.”) and tension builds on many levels, creating a complex, believable, and logically arranged sequence of events that keep readers on their toes.
With its powerful blend of Turkish cultural explorations, international intrigue, a treasure hunt, historical references, and characters who hold their own special interests close to their hearts, The Healer’s Daughters is an exceptional thriller that proves hard to put down.
Here is another scene from my new thriller, The Healer’s Daughters. In chapter 9, Elif and her group hold a unique memorial for the Bergama Bombing victims. I would love to hear your response in the comments section or on Facebook.
Five kilometers northwest of Bergama, six women in their twenties and thirties file up a steep, narrow trail toward a rock escarpment. The first and last carry backpacks; the middle four hold hand drums. The air is dry, the breeze tangy. The gibbous moon is past its zenith, and stars blink in the hazy night. The women do not talk, but their footfalls on the stone and dirt have a distinct rhythm. Traffic hums in the distance, and cicadas buzz close by. Somewhere in the Kaikos Valley below, a dog is barking.
When the women reach a niche cut into the rock formation, the leader, Elif Boroğlu, takes from her backpack a small figurine, an unpainted terra-cotta mother goddess with a headdress. As the women chant softly, she places the figurine reverently in the niche. After a minute, they start up the path again, but their low chanting continues. Their chant is, as always, spontaneous, and they pass the melody among themselves as they walk.
High up the escarpment, when the trail cuts back, the procession stops near the narrow mouth of a cave. A spring whispers from the rocks to their right. Though they are far enough from Bergama that the town is mute, the sightline to ancient Pergamon’s acropolis is clear, the pale temple columns stark even at this distance. Still chanting, each woman takes off her clothes and piles them neatly on the rock next to the spring. In nakedness, they have learned, is honesty.
Elif, the only one of the women without tattoos, takes three more figurines, human rather than mother goddesses, from her backpack. One is painted dull black, the second the pale blue of the sky just before sunrise, and the third a glossy yellow. She places them as an offering on a horizontal stone shelf cut next to the cave’s mouth. The women form a semicircle, and each begins to sway to her internal music.
The drumming starts slowly, the rhythm clear but not yet relentless. One woman double steps into the semicircle, twirls, raises her drum first to the night sky and then to the cave. “Oh, Mother Goddess,” she calls out, “by every name you are known in every place, take the souls of those murdered in our ancient city! Take these innocents into your heart and purify them for their journey! Wash all of us of our impurities!” She lowers her head and beats her drum harder.
A second woman steps forward, takes up the beat, spins, stomps hard, and spits into the dirt. “We mourn the passing of innocence!” she sings. “We mourn the loss of families, of mothers and fathers and dear children and grandparents!” Her voice rises. “And we curse the violence of men! Their destructiveness! Their evil! Their stupidity! Their arrogance! Their narcissism!” She squats, spits again, and leaps wailing at the moon. “Oh, we curse their arrogance!”
A third, already weeping, calls, “Oh, Mother, help us understand what cannot be understood! We entreat you, help us comprehend incomprehensible evil!” She raises her arms and shakes her hands. “Give us the wisdom,” she cries, “of the ages that we now need so deeply! Send us a cure for the pain that wracks our souls!”
The fourth woman shouts again for vengeance, and the fifth takes a list from a backpack and calls out the names of all of those killed on Bergama’s funicular. She repeats the names of the eight-year-old twins again and again until their names become a single incantation. The women are all sweating now, each swinging, each calling, each beating time. The moon turns, and the stars rotate.
The women’s rituals are never scripted, their actions never preset. Their incantations are always new, and, though they sometimes utter the names of the old mother goddesses—Cybele and Meter and Isis and others—it is the current transgressions of humans that they bewail. And it is the sanctity of the earth, of the world now, that they honor, this moment in time. Often they step out of time, dance beyond time, but they remain present to this escarpment, this cave, this spring, this night, this air, and the dust they stir in this moment.
Finally, Elif takes up the black figurine and steps into the center of the tightening semicircle. The drumming around her is unrelenting, the passion still rising. “Hear our sadness, Mother!” she sings, her voice beautiful, high and haunting. “Hear our anger, oh, Mother! Feel our pain! Feel the ache in our hearts and in our town!” Her voice rises in pitch. “Lament with us the senseless horror that has been visited upon us!” She raises the figurine with both hands as she pirouettes. She then lowers her right hand that holds the figurine, turns, cocks her arm, and hurls it against the escarpment above the cave’s mouth. It shatters, showering the dancers with shards.
“Give us hope, Mother!” Elif intones. “Give us strength! Give us the power to overcome! To carry on! To go forth! To make things right! To love!” Spinning, she can’t catch her breath. “To love! To love!” Her voice rises above words, beyond language.
The others whirl with her but not in unison, each in her own universe. They are all sweating and panting, pale gleaming shadows hidden in the night from outsiders. Their voices rise with Elif’s, but none speaks words. Their incantations fly well beyond the discourse of any dogma, beyond the languages of cults or tribes or nationalities, beyond any dialects of man. In the valley, dogs bark.