Fleeting: Bertrice Small’s “The Kadin”

One weekend recently I randomly went to a favorite second hand store and found myself perusing the historical romance section… Particularly Bertrice Small.

Bertrice Small (whom recently passed away before completing her 57th novel) was the first historical romance (bodice ripping to be perfectly blunt) author that I was introduced to… and has been one of my personal favorites, her novels well worn out on my bookshelf. Not knowing that she had passed rather recently I came across an older novel of her’s “The Kadin”.

This was not the first time I picked up this particular novel having seen it in the store over the years, the table of contents intimidated me because unlike most other novels that typically take place over a handful of years to possibly a decade, this novel appears to have go through an entire life span of thefemale protagonist and potentially more than one lover / husband in that span as well.

“The Kadin” is not the only novel of Bertrice Small that takes place during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, but it was definitely the first that follows the rise of the most powerful woman in the empire. Despite how history depicts the Ottoman Empire, the truth of the matter is that because we know so little of the inner workings of the harem other than the most basic knowledge… I am not saying that this novel reveals exactly what happens, and being fiction it does romanticize quite a bit but it does provide that little seed of doubt that appearances are entirely what they seem…

In fact Bertrice herself said it best:

“With women’s liberation, a great deal of romance, I think, has gone out of our lives. It’s very hard for many men and some women to adjust to the fact. Although you may want equal pay for an equal day’s work, you still want your hand kissed and the door held open.”

Whether that is particularly true or not is besides the point… Then what is the point of this post?

That “The Kadin” is one piece of fiction that I found rather enthralling: of a young girl (high school years) ripped from the home she knew, sold into slavery (or rather into a harem), and from there she and her fellow wives built and created a trifecta of power that sustained within the harem during the years of her husband’s reign.

When her husband passes and her son becomes the new Sultan, her power then increases and a power struggle ensues between herself (mother of the Sultan) and her daughter-in-law (her son’s aka Sultan’s second wife). From here the middle third of “The Kadin’s life” then transitions into the last third of her life wherein she disappears from the home she came to love to return to the home of her childhood and start anew.

Reading this book reminds me that in spite the most dire of circumstances and no matter how limiting women’s lives were in the past, there are always ways around the traditional system. That women were still powerful and strong and adept in the world around them… and that is perhaps why I still find myself drawn to Bertrice Small’s female protagonists.

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