With a background in textile design and specialisations in carpet design (she worked as a carpet designer in Athens for six years), Gauci is well-versed in both textiles and Greece to tell the tale of an embroiderer set in Greece, a saga which spans over 150 years and is backed up by historical facts.
The Embroiderer starts in 1822. A child is born to a beautiful woman in the Byzantine monastery of Nea Moni on the Greek island of Chios during one of the bloodiest massacres of the Greek War of Independence. During the subsequent decades of the bitter struggle between Greeks and Turks (which comes to a head, in 1919, when the Greek army invades Turkey), Dimitra Lamartine arrives in Smyrna (modern-day Izmir) and becomes a famous embroiderer to the elite of Ottoman society. But, it is her granddaughter Sophia who takes the business to great heights, only to see everything come crashing down with the outbreak of the Balkan War in 1912. In 1922, Sophia begins a new life in Athens but the memory of a dire prophecy once told to her grandmother about a girl with flaming red hair begins to haunt her with devastating consequences. Fast forward to 1972. Eleni Stephenson is called to the bed side of her dying aunt in Athens, and discovers the chilling truth behind her family’s dark past, which plunges her into the shadowy world of political intrigue, secret societies and espionage.
‘The seeds for The Embroiderer were sown during my years working as a carpet designer in Greece [in the 1970s],’ says Gauci. ‘The company was situated in a suburb of Athens populated by refugees from the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922–23. Working amongst these people, many of the older generation whom still conversed in Turkish, I grew to understand the impact of the disaster and the intense yearning these people still held for Turkey, the land of their forefathers and a land in which they are still unable to reside. Significantly they shared a separate sense of identity, so much so that 50 years after the catastrophe, many of them still referred to themselves as ‘Mikrasiates’ (Asia Minor people) and still chose to intermarry.’
‘Today, most of the white-washed pre-fabricated homes in the refugee neighbourhoods in Athens have been replaced by apartment blocks but the street names still bear testament to their origins: Byzantium Street, Pergamum Street, Anatolia Street, Bouboulina Street and Misolonghi Street, to name a few. And whilst women no longer spill out of their doorways sitting on rush-bottomed chairs chatting to their neighbours whilst embroidering cloth for their daughter’s dowry, and basement shops selling bric-a-brac and musical instruments from the ‘old world’ are few and far between, if we look closer, the history and the spirit of these people still resonates in their everyday lives; in their music, their food, in the plethora of Turkish words and phrases that punctuate the language and in the ancient belief in the evil eye. Most important of all, it is through the time-honoured tradition of storytelling that their memories are kept alive. The Embroiderer is as much their story as it is mine.’