Kathryn Gauci interviews Sophia Laskaris from The Embroiderer
Please step with us into the fascinating world of Sophia Laskaris, a skilled Greek woman born in the Ottoman Empire who experiences life and love before and during World War I. She is the protagonist of The Embroiderer by Kathryn Gauci.
KG: Where and when were you born?
SL: I was born in 1883 in Smyrna (Izmir) Turkey.
KG: Tell us what goal(s) you hoped to accomplish?
SL: As a child I’d always hoped to follow in my grandmother Dimitra’s footsteps and become a fine embroiderer. Through her encouragement I achieved that dream and more when I opened my own couture house, La Maison du L’Orient, in Constantinople in the early 1900’s.
KG: What influence did your birth family have on you, your choices, your life? Explain why and how.
SL: I was born into a family of embroiderers. It was they who nurtured my creativity but it was my father who instilled in me a love of books and learning.
KG: If you could relive your life, what changes would you make?
SL: I have been fortunate to have had a prosperous life, experience true love and know the joy of children. If I could change anything it would be to have spent longer with those I loved.
KG: How did you feel when you first saw the love of your life?
SL: Here I must confess that there were two loves in my life. My husband, Andreas, and later, Count Nikolai Orlovsky, a Russian aristocrat in exile who became my lover until his untimely death in 1919 whilst on a secret mission near Bursa.
KG: What drew you to the person you fell in love with?
SL: Both men were different. Andreas was a Greek like me. He was a handsome, kind and gentle man; a respected artist who understood my dreams. It was he who designed and painted the murals in the two salons of La Maison du L’Orient. Count Orlovsky, known simply as Nikolai to his friends, was different. We were both married when we met but the attraction was there from the first moment: intense and passionate beyond anything I’d experience before. He took chances where Andreas was cautious. With his film star looks, all the women fell for Nikolai’s charms. After his wife’s death, he only had eyes for me. When he died, a part of me died also. It was unfortunate that we had to hide our love from the outside world, yet I suspect close friends and family knew. A love like that is hard to conceal.
KG: Why do you think we fall in love? Is it an eternal emotion or simply a trick of nature designed to sustain the species?
SL: Perhaps it is a trick of nature to sustain the species. If it is, it works well and true love certainly is eternal.
KG: Tell us why you believe that falling in love is a gift/curse?
SL: I don’t believe that falling in love is a curse. Very few people experience real love and when they do it is invigorating, sparking a life that knows no boundaries. Both Andreas and Nikolai inspired me in their own ways and I have them to thank for the woman I am.
KG: Tell us why you believe women really are/are not the weaker sex?
SL: I have never thought women were the weaker sex. I was brought up in a household of strong women. My grandmother Dimitra, in particular was equal to any man and she instilled a strong sense of being in me. She lost her husband in a tragic accident when her children were young. She never remarried but through her creativity as an embroiderer and a head for business, she became a wealthy and respected woman who mixed with the elite of the Ottoman Empire. She always told me I could be as good as any man.
KG: Describe the type of man/woman you prefer?
SL: I prefer people who are strong yet sensitive, adventurous, and kind and respectful to others.
KG: If you could live in a different historical period, which would you choose and why does it appeal to you?
SL: I am a Greek born in the Ottoman Empire and as such am aware that we have been under Turkish domination since the fall of Constantinople. Many Greeks have prospered but others have suffered greatly. It is freedom from oppression that I want more than anything. My father taught me about Ancient Greece and so perhaps I would choose to live in Athens during the classical period even though women were not as free as they are now.
KG: How do you feel about your family, now that you’re an adult?
SL: My family is everything to me. We support each other and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. There is only one who causes me pain – my eldest daughter. I pray she will grow out of her troublesome ways.
KG: What do you want from life?
SL: I want to live a life free of war. For years, that is all that I have experienced. I pray for the day we can live in peace and harmony.
KG: What, in the outside world, is preventing you from getting it?
SL: The Ottoman Empire is disintegrating. The Allies are supposed to be there for us but they are fickle and I fear they are only looking after their own interests. No one trusts anyone any longer.
KG: What, in yourself, is preventing you from getting it?
SL: I cannot be a voice in the wilderness. We need unity to make real change.
KG: In your relationship with others, how are you different with family than you are with friends? Why?
SL: I do not voice my true opinions outside my immediate circle of friends and family for fear of retribution from the Turks. We have been taught to be wary of outsiders.
KG: How do you fall in love? At first sight? Over a long period?
SL: I fell in love with both men at first sight. With Andreas, that love grew stronger as time passed. With Nikolai it was an instant and deep attraction from the moment I laid eyes on him. Here I would like to add that love at first sight is frowned on in my society. Such love is often thought to be transient. Most people believe true love blossoms the longer a couple share their lives together.
KG: What parts of loving come easy for you? Hard?
SL: Loving someone is easy for me. Living without the one you love is hard.
KG: How do you decide if you can trust someone? Experience with others? With this person? First impressions? Intuition? Do you test the person somehow? Or are you just generally disposed to trust or not to trust?
SL: I am an intuitive person and trust my instincts. They are rarely wrong.
KG: When you walk into a room, what do you notice first? Second?
SL: The warmth of the people. Secondly, I notice those who seem to stand out above others.
KG: When you walk into a room, what do you expect people to notice about you?
SL: Because of my work as a couturier, people always look to see what I am wearing.
KG: Is one sense more highly developed than another? (Are you more visual, or audial, etc., or do you rely on the famous sixth sense?)
SL: As an artist I am a visual person and I also believe that I have a highly developed sixth sense.
KG: Did you turn out the way you expected? The way your parents predicted?
SL: I believe so. As a child, I was always creative and a quick learner. Like my grandmother, I learned to live on my wits after Andreas and Nikolai died.
KG: How would you describe yourself?
SL: I am a social, outgoing person yet at the same time, I like my own company. I am stimulated by my work and the arts and have a strong sense of duty to my family and community.
KG: What really moves you, or touches you to the soul?
SL: My firstborn, Leonidas. I love him more than life itself. His softness and sensitivity touches my soul.
KG: What’s the one thing you have always wanted to do but didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t? What would happen if you did do it?
SL: I would like to be a fine horsewoman like my grandmother. Alas, it would be frowned upon by many in society.
KG: What do you consider are your strengths?
SL: Resilience and tenacity.
KG: What do you consider are your weaknesses?
SL: I am prone to melancholia when thinking about those I’ve loved and lost.
KG: What is one physical attribute you are proud of?
SL: By the grace of God, I am fortunate to have been bestowed with great beauty. I also have the most unusual eyes; deep amethyst. As a child, no-one would comment on them for fear of attracting the evil eye.
KG: What one physical attribute would you change?
SL: None, although that may change when I am an old woman.
KG: What do you consider your special talent?
SL: My creativity.
KG: What are you most proud of about your life?
SL: My children.
KG: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Why?
SL: I actively sought the friendship of a man I detested in order to destroy him and the Turkish Secret Police because I believed them to have been involved in Nikolai’s death.
KG: Describe your ideal mate.
SL: My lover, Nikolai.
KG: What are you most afraid of?
SL: A dire prophecy about a girl with flaming red hair that was told to my grandmother Dimitra before I was born. She always believed that one day it would come true and I have inherited that fear. My trouble-some daughter, Maria, is the only one in the family with red hair. Because of this, I cannot help but view her differently to my other two children.
KG: What’s the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?
SL: I value peace; it is elusive at the moment. One day I hope we will all live in peace.
KG: How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?
SL: My life is uncertain. Perhaps the wars have affected me. If I could change anything, it would be to spend a little more time with those I’ve loved and lost.
About the author:
Kathryn Gauci was born in Leicestershire, England, and studied textile design at Loughborough College of Art and later at Kidderminster College of Art and Design where she specialised in carpet design and technology. After graduating, Kathryn spent a year in Vienna, Austria before moving to Greece where she worked as a carpet designer in Athens for six years. There followed another brief period in New Zealand before eventually settling in Melbourne, Australia.
Before turning to writing full-time, Kathryn ran her own textile design studio in Melbourne for over fifteen years, work which she enjoyed tremendously as it allowed her the luxury of travelling worldwide, often taking her off the beaten track and exploring other cultures. The Embroiderer is her first novel; a culmination of those wonderful years of design and travel, and especially of those glorious years in her youth living and working in Greece – a place that she is proud to call her spiritual home.
The Embroiderer is a beautifully written novel spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, set against the backdrop of the Greek War of Independence. It was published on 5th November 2014 and is available to buy in paperback and as an ebook.
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Purchase directly from the publisher here: http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk
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