I’ve been in Crimea for the presentation of the Crimean Tatar translation of Dream Land, my novel about the return of the Crimean Tatars to their homeland in the 1990s. This entire nation of people was deported from Crimea, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1944, and fought a peaceful campaign for fifty years for the right to return.
People want to know if I’m pleased about the book translation (I’m absolutely delighted – I blogged about it previously here), why I decided to write the book in the first place (because I thought it was a fascinating, compelling and important story that begged to be told) but most of all they want to know ‘Are you going to write a sequel? What happens next to Safi?’
It’s always gratifying when readers want to know what happens to your characters outside the pages of the book. I myself find it hard to abandon characters after I’ve created them. The heroine of my first novel, Riding Icarus, so grabbed my imagination that I went on to write two more novels about her.
It’s a bit more complicated with Safi, because although she’s a fictional character, her story is closely based on real events. Dream Land ends in the summer of 1992 on a moment of hope, that Crimean Tatar families like Safi’s will be able to build houses with permission from the Ukrainian authorities and settle in to a new life in Crimea with support and acceptance from their Ukrainian and Russian neighbours. And in truth, this is by and large what has happened, although no one can pretend that prejudice and discrimination do not still exist. I never planned a sequel to Dream Land. I thought that if readers really want to know what happens to Safi, all they have to do is read a newspaper or visit Crimea.
Safi would be thirty-three now, if she really existed. Does she stay in Crimea or does she emigrate? I’ve been asked over the last few days. Does she remember the stories she heard from her grandfather in Dream Land? Does she teach her children Crimean Tatar language? What about her brother Lutfi – does he marry a Russian girl like the one in the book, or does he get involved in radical Islam?
I don’t know the answers. All these things have happened to my friends in Crimea, the ones whose lives in the 1990s inspired Dream Land. It would be nice if I could create happy and fulfilling futures for all these people I love and admire. But this is real life, not fiction.
There’s a fascinating, compelling and important story still to be told about the Crimean Tatar national movement since 1992. About political and social change, about the steady loss of the Crimean Tatar language and the continuing struggle to uncover and declare the truth of what happened in 1944.
I’m amazed and honoured and touched that so many people have asked me for a sequel. But I’m not sure I’m the person to tell this story. My friend’s daughter in Crimea has just started writing stories. She’s Crimean Tatar, and around the same age now as Safi is in Dream Land. Perhaps she will be the one to write What Happens Next.
|The Crimean Tatar cover of Dream Land|