- the twins
- Cafer Efendi
- Madam Siranush
- the Padishah
- Nedim "the Nightingale"
- Sümbül Ağa
- the Kahya/the Chief Housekeeper
- Mistress of the Flowers
- the Haseki Sultana
- Prince Mejnun
- Princess Fatma
- İbrahim Pasha
- Master Levni
Chapter by Chapter Summary
- Note: For the first half of the book, Leyla is called "Laleena." Laleena's name is changed halfway through the book. The Chapter by Chapter summary will address Leyla as "Laleena" until her name is changed.
Chapter 1: Georgia
In the first chapter, Laleena describes how her father's disappearance changed the family, and how he disappeared. Her father, Aslan, was a famous artist in Georgia. Aslan would paint pieces for orthodox churches. Laleena ponders how her father's painting is contradicitory to his Muslim faith, but now understands how important being an artist was to him. Cengiz, Laleena's brother, and Laleena were taught calligraphy, the Arabic alphabet, and the Mkhedruli language by their father. But, their father also taught them to paint. When the wars came, their father joined as a war painter to record the battle scences. That last image of her father's departure, slowly disappearing over the hill, is permanently etched in Laleena's mind. His small figure in the distance reminded Laleena of Cengiz's toy soldiers. Sometimes, she'll put them in the palm of her hand and pretend it was her father. Even when the war ended, he didn't come home. Aslan was counted among the missing, and, though no one said anything, everyone in the family feared the worse.
Chapter 2: The First Tulips
When Aslan left, the family made the garden even larger, growing flowers and vegetables. They would have enough vegetables to live off, but would sell or trade the surplus, which Cengiz and Laleena took to the market. Laleena had a private flower patch of her favorite flower, tulips. Cengiz explains that the word "tulip" mean "turban." Laleena remembers when she first saw a tulip on the first spring since her father's disappearance. While walking to get water from a well, Cengiz and Laleena became lost and discovered a massive field full of purple tulips. While thinking about the flowers, Laleena asked Cengiz whether he thought their father would ever come back. Cengiz didn't say anything, but gave the impression that he didn't believe he ever would. Fearful, Laleena asks what will happen since the family is stretched very thin, money wise. The family is too proud to accept charity, and Cengiz says he plans to join the army. Laleena rebukes him, and he says the only option is to find an old, rich husband for Laleena. He says this jokingly, but they both knew it would come to this. Cengiz asks if Laleena thinks she can grow these tulips, since she has the "magic touch." Laleena agrees to try, and they both grab as many bulbs as they could. Cengiz and Laleena plant them, and hope for tulips next spring. However, neither Cengiz or Laleena ever again mentioned their father.
Chapter 3: Growing Tulips
Winter was an extremely rough time for Laleena and her family. They had little food and firewood. Laleena's mother becomes gaunt and sickly, and the twins are growing steadily but are very hungry. So is Laleena, though she tries not to complain. Though the winter is horrid, the family pulls through. When spring comes, the tulips start blooming. Laleena and Cengiz are shocked to see that the purple tulips bulbs grew different colored tulips - all the colors of the rainbow. Even Laleena's and Cengiz's mother smiled for a bit when she sees all the bright colors. Laleena wonders why the colors change, and starts drawing and sketching her tulips with charcoal and watercolors. She recalls her father saying, "Manifest the gift that is given to you." As news of the flowers spread, the village comes to see them. One person in particular is a scribe named Ilia. He relates a wonderful history of the plants to Laleena. He recalls how the Dutch got bankrupt because of their passion for tulips. Some tulips are extremely valuable. Ilia tells Laleena of their value, saying, "In İstanbul, the Ottoman capital, people breed and cross the bulbs and sell them for unthinkable prices. For example, one variety bought two wagon loads of wheat, four loads of rye, four fat oxen, twelve fat sheep, four barrels of raki, two barrels of butter, one thousand pounds of cheese,... and a sizable wagon to haul it all away. All this for just one tulip." Laleena grows immensely in respect for tulips. She asks what types of tulips they grow in İstanbul. Ilia responds, saying they grow in every color and size imaginable, however, no one has ever been able to come up with the coveted black tulip. He admires Laleena's tulips and says he thinks she might have the "tulip touch." Laleena generously gives her brother, Cengiz, some credit as well. The neighbors become jealous and realize that they should have thought of breeding the tulips. They strip the hills of the bulbs. Cengiz and Laleena try cross-breeding the tulips to make unusual ones, specifically the dark ones to make an even darker tulip. The family still struggles though, with a leaky roof, no decent shoes, and because of the weather, a poor vegetable patch. Cengiz and Laleena start worrying even more about their mother and Leyla tries to think of a plan that will help her mother and family.
Chapter 4: The Strangers
In chapter 4, Cengiz and Laleena went into the forest with the other children in the village for the annual mushroom hunt. Laleena recalls her mother telling them how hard it was to find your first mushroom, but once you did, others would start appearing rapidly. Laleena fervently hopes to win the contest for the biggest mushroom found. After many hours of looking, Laleena finds the first mushroom. "It was enourmous, even larger than my face. I knew the moment I carefully twisted its stem and felt its weight in my hand that this had to be the prize-winning mushroom," reads the book. So, that night, the mushroom harvest celebration commences. The villagers bring mushroom wine, soups, tarts and more and little children dress up like mushrooms. Laleena overhears Ilia telling someone about her special gift with plants and overhears the other person say, "Yes, but too bad about her father. The poor family is having a very difficult time, I've heard. They should just find a good husband for her." Disturbed, Laleena moves away and notices three strange men among the crowd. She recognizes them as foreigners from İstanbul. Two look like brothers, and are short, however, the third man is tall. They glance around the crowd, and the tall man spots Laleena. He whispers something to the other men, and, scared, Laleena scurries off. Laleena wins a round of chesse with her mushroom. The next day, working in the garden, Laleena sees the three men and the mayor walking towards her home. She feels as if she's in extreme danger and runs upstairs to hide, and her mother opens the door. Laleena eavesdrops through the floor, and the mayor translates for the men, since Laleena's mother doesn't speak Turkish. She figures out the mayor is acting like an agent for these strange men, and they are all talking about her. The mayor explains that the men want to take Laleena to a good household in İstanbul and marry her. If her mother sells Laleena to the men, the family will be taken care of for a long time with all the money. The mayor explains she would be safe, happy, well taken care of, and grow to be a lady. But Laleena's mother refuses, saying she is still a child, to the mayor's protests. The mayor implores her to think about her family, but Laleena's mother doesn't give in. The mayor says the men will be here for one more day, and that day only should she change her mind, and the group leaves the house.
Laleena struggles inwardly. She knows the family is in desperate need of money, but that her mother can't part with Laleena, her sole daughter, and break the family again. Laleena wishes for things to remain the same and for her father to come home, and she wishes she could something, and her family could return to the days before the war. Laleena goes downstairs and sees her mother crying, repeating over and over, with passion, "I won't do it. I won't!" when she sees Laleena. Laleena comforts her mother and takes her twin brothers to the garden to dig some vegetables for dinner. It is twilight, and Laleena admires the gorgeous sunset, and takes in the magic of the moment. She thinks of an idea to help her fmaily, but pushes it away, saying it is too frightening. She turns to the twins and reassures them she'll figures something out, and gives them some turnips to carry in to dinner. Laleena's twin brothers start talking to each other in their private baby language, but Laleena knows that they understood her, as they held their hands out and smiled at her.
Chapter 5: The Daring Choice
Laleena has a lot of trouble sleeping, and decides to get some water. But, in the kitchen she sees a small tin solider. She picks it up, and asks what she should do. She immeadiatley thinks, as if in response, Follow your destiny. Laleena is puzzled for a moment, but makes up her mind. She leaves the house early in the morning, and heads to the market. She finds the strangers and talks to them in Turkish. She asks them if they are looking for girls to take to İstanbul. The men are shocked by her bold manner, but answer yes. Laleena says she knows someone who is interested, to which the men reply she has to be pretty, talented, and well-behaved. Laleena asks about herself, and despite laughter from the men, she says she worth "at least enough gold to take care of her family for a long, long time." One man comments on Laleena's spunk, since she's arranging prices, without even making sure she has a deal. However, Laleena is to meet the men tomorrow, early at dawn. The men start to hand Laleena the coins, but hesitate, not sure if they can trust her. But, Laleena promises, and runs home.
Laleena has trouble sleeping, again. She says good-bye to her flower bed, but quickly digs up several bulbs Cengiz and Laleena were experimenting with. Laleena also brings some clothes, paintbrushes, herbal remedies, and a solider. She writes a letter to her mother, saying not to worry. When the sun starts appearing, Laleena goes to where her mother sleeps and places the coins near her. She cries, and says good-bye to her family, but leaves.
Chapter 6: Voyage to Istanbul
Laleena is taken over the Caucasus Mountains, and finds she is the only girl from her village. The men would stop at other villages in their journey and pick up other girls, but all the girls were too timid to talk to each other. Laleena remembers earlier in the trip, traveling by camels and carts. Days later, the girls start seeing trees and flowers and start smelling a wet, salty smell, which Laleena hears other girls calling the sea and the other smells were from palm, orange, and lemon trees. The girls and Laleena are so taken into the largest and most magnificent city Laleena has ever seen, and she exclaims that this must be İstanbul. One of the brothers laughs, and comments to Cafer Efendi, the tall man. Cafer Efendi says nothing, and Laleena notices that he speaks less often, but when he does, he speaks with authority. Laleena asks about the city, Batum, and the Black Sea. She asks about the ships and Cafer Efendi says that if she is not well-behaved she will be thrown overboard, and never see the palace and the minarets. This leads Laleena to ask about minarets, which are towers on mosques, and the man answers, but delivers a warning as well. Laleena, apparently, asked too many questions and must learn to keep quiet, to avoid trouble.
Later in the day, the girls sail out of the harbor on one of the ships. Even more girls join the group, ages ranging from seventeen to three or four years old. About two hundred girls boarded a ship called "Hürriyet", which means "freedom." Laleena whispers this is not an appropriate name for a vessel that will steal these girls away from their homelands and marry them off to a stranger in İstanbul. The girls are confined in a small storage room, with little to no light, and no space. Laleena becomes sea sick, and some girls faint from the lack of air. Towards the beginning, the girls had screamed and cried, but one of the men would come in with a whip, and though the screams would crescendo, they would soon die down. Many days in the voyage, Cafer Efendi opens the door and calls for Laleena, who stumbles out into the fresh air. She is led into a cabin with the brothers and other men. Cafe Efundi asks to see Laleena's hands and shows them to the men, commenting, "They are lovely, but I doubt they could do much hard work even though they are a bit rough." One of the men ask if she could play an instrument, to which Cafer Efendi says, "Maybe." He asks Laleena's age, twelve, and another man examines her eyes and teeth, commenting all the while. Laleena is enraged at being treated like an animal at the market, so she bites his hand hand really hard. The man slaps her and the men laugh. Laleena receives no food for two days, and Cafer Efendi leads her back to the room, and whispers to Laleena, "I told you to behave yourself. Must we throw you over board?" When the door shuts, Laleena is in complete darkness, and tries to find her way to a spot, but trips on one of the little girls. The little girl is hurt and starts crying, but has no tears to cry with. Laleena reaches out and holds her, and the little girl stops crying and falls to sleep. Laleena's face is swollen, and she longs for her little twin brothers. But, she forges a bond with Lena, the little five-year-old girl. The two girls would talk and sing softly, and "taking care of her keeps [Laleena's] spirit alive." When the door opens, and the light comes with it, Laleena sees Lena for the first time. Lena has long, wavy white hair and Laleena thinks she looks like an angel. She is appalled that someone could marry off Lena, who is so young, and tells another older girl about her thoughts.
The girl looks at Laleena in something like disgust and says, "Don't you know they are not taking us to husbands? We are slaves. They will sell us at the slave markets." This comment unleashed utter chaos and all the girls start talking to each other, and several languages swirl around the room. A few start to cry, but are shushed by the older girl, in fear of the whip. Laleena is in slight shock, barely being able to believe it. But, reflecting, she realizes had the girls going to be sold as brides, then the men would have taken better care of them so they would look well. Laleena closes her eyes and thinks about her fate. She is reminded of the words, Follow your destiny. Laleena wonders why her destiny led her here. She thinks it would have been better if she stayed with her family. Even if they had been poor, they would have been together. Laleena misses Cengiz, and her mother. Eventually the ship docks, and the girls hurry out onto the deck. Laleena tries to hold Lena's hand. Laleena looks at the city, filled with towers, and, once again, thinks this is İstanbul. However, Caferr Efendi says they still have a long way to go to İstanbul, and that the group will split. Some girls shall travel to İzmir, some to Salonica, and even more to Cairo. Laleena recognizes the name İzmir, but hasn't heard of the other places, and asks where she will go. Cafer Efendi says she will go to İstanbul, but when Laleena asks about Lena, he replies, "I cannot promise anything. And its not your business to know." However, Laleena persists, and finds that Lena will join her in İstanbul. In Trabzon, the city the girls arrived at, the girls went fifty to each slave boat, and, holding hands, Lena and Laleena boarded a boat headed for İstanbul. This boat is even worse than the first, and the girls suffer from thirst and seasickness. Storms make the voyage worst, and Laleena almost wishes the boat would hit rocks and end the nightmare.
Chapter 7: City of the World's Desire
Many days later, the ships stops and the doors open. The brothers herd the girls onto the deck. Some girls are so weak from sitting in one position for such a long time, they must be carried or they will collapse. The brothers snap and say to hurry, and the girls breathe in the fresh air and look over the side rails at the water. It is evening, and the light is beautiful, filtering through light fog. Laleena gets her first look at İstanbul and is awed by the pure vastness of it. Forests, mansions, hills, spires, all exist under the protection of a giant wall. The girls disembark the ship, and Laleena holds Lena's hand tightly. They clamber into oxen carts and drive away, each girl competing for a seat near the edge so as to look at the amazing city. The sounds are completely different from the ones Laleena is used to hearing at home - loud horns and men's voices singing a lullaby from a minaret. Laleena and a few other girls are taken into one of the largest houses. Several elderly women took the girls into a hamam, which is a public bathroom. The girls are examined for lice, and scrubbed clean. Some girls were deloused and some had their hair cut, and Laleena pleads a woman to leave Lena's white hair alone - saying she is special being. The women thinks about this for a minute and leaves Lena undisturbed. Each girl is given a clean, simple cotton gown, and Laleena dresses and then helps Lena with hers. When going back to the giant house, Laleena sees other girls with dark, dark skin. She is told these girls are from a continent called Africa. The girls all eat a filling meal and sleep in clean beds. Laleena is so tired, she immeadiatley falls to sleep. Before the meal, the older girls and younger girls were separated, and Lena cried. Laleena's upset, but is afraid to point out their relationship, lest the two girls be separated on purpose continually. Come morning, the group travels down some stairs to a large room. An extremely well-dressed, rich woman comes into the room. The woman is very strong and muscular, but removes her veil to show a beautiful face. She eyes the girls and nods pleasantly. She speaks in Turkish. "My name is Madam Siranush. Now, I know you are simple girls with no manners, girls form all over the Ottoman Empire and or from even farther away. Over the next few days, I will show each of you how to walk like a willow and how to speak politely. I will teach you how to use your eyes to express yourselves. You are pretty girls, and I will polish you. You must work hard, and you must obey." That day each girls works until nightfall learning how to walk, sit, serve, and speak Turkish properly and gracefully. Laleena is very grateful she already knows Turkish, and feels for the girls who don't. Soon, the girls, on the outside, become girls from İstanbul. On the inside, each girl still longs for her homeland, though no one dares to speak of it. Laleena learns that the children are kept in a separate part of the house, and Laleena hopes to see Lena, and hopes she won't get into trouble because she is crying for Laleena.
Chapter 8: The Poet's Gift
Days later, Madam Siranush arrives, looking nicer than normal. Today is market day and buyers will examine the girls. She says to treat them nicely and smile. All the buyers were men, and they came and went all day.Laleena is surprised at how segregated the women and the men are. Her heart is stabbed when she hears a man carelessly say, "Give us a dozen," like the girls are chickens or livestock. But, that is how it is, and Madam Siranush crisply counts out twelve girls for him. More girls are sold, and Laleena is fascinated by the different types of payment - everything from gold to sacks of wheat to suits of armor to horses. Laleena isn't sold, and thinks it is because the men can sense her hate for them. But she worries wha tis to become of her if she is not sold. The next day is the same, and Laleena starts to become restless. But she notices a man looking at her, wearing clothes with embroidered flowers in golden thread. Laleena thinks this is an outfit for a woman, but the man comes up to her and hands her a coin, saying, "It has the Padishah's turah. [A turah is the Sultan's signature.] Go ahead and take it. You might need it someday. And I am repaying a debt." The man's eyes aren't frightening like the others. Laleena asks who the Padishah is, and learns he is the king and has a great empire, though Laleena has never heard of places like Italy, Persia, Morocco and Europe. "Of course, you have no notion where all these places are, nor have you ever seen a map. You have no idea how vast this world is. How many different creatures inhabit it. And how many different kinds of people live in it - people who harm each other unnecessarily. I support neither slavery nor war. Those misfortunes should be removed from our destiny. Neither does our Padishah and his Grand Vizier, İbrahim Pasha support war and slavery. Life is too short and precious." Laleena is even more confused. The man stops trying to explain, and bless Laleena, giving her the coin. Laleena is touched by the man's kindness and gives him a tulip bulb in thanks. The man is floored by her generosity, and asks where she got it. Laleena admits she grew them before she came here with her brother. The man thanks her profusley and generously. He wishes to buy Laleena, but doesn't support the slave trade. He promises to plant it and write a poem for it. "You have inspired me and you deserve to be taken to the best of homes. I'll see what I can accomplish." Laleena is hopeful for the rest of the day, and is grateful for the kindness of the man. "Yes, I'd given him one of my most valuable possessions. But it was a small price to pay for what he had given me in a moment of kindness." That night there is much more room where the girls sleep since so many girls have been sold. Laleena overhears Madam Siranush saying to a man that if they are not bought the first day, they probably never will. The man inquires as to what will happen if a girl is not sold, and finds they will be turned into a beggar or a thief. Laleena knows what a beggar is - They are crippled on purpose so as to gain people's sympathy. Laleena prays someone will take her so she won't have to be hurt and forced to beg. She promises to act friendly tomorrow, and fears that tomorrow might be her only chance. Laleena prays for Lena. Earlier, another girl had told her Lena was sold to a man in İstanbul. Laleena hopes to see her again and is reminded of everything she had lost.
Chapter 9: Master Hyacinth
More customers come the next day. An richly-dressed man arrived. Laleena is not sure where he is from, but understands from the way he dressed, moved, and how Madam Siranush acted, that he was someone important. Madam Siranush lines the girls up, and the man carefully examines each one slowly. Lalaeena is terrified, afraid of being passed by, and afraid to be looked at so thoroughly. Laleena tries to be happy and smile, but she panics, knowing that she is not giving a great impression. The man stops in front of her, exclaiming, "What sad eyes. Come on, girl. Smile!" Laleena is surprised and freezes, and the man repeats the order. Laleena gives a petrified smile, but the man says that it is not a real smile. "I want you to smile as if you are happy. As if you are feeling good, having fun. Not only with your lips but with your eyes. From the inside. I want to see your life, your vitality. Your spirit. Life is precious, my girl. Don't cry it away." Laleena can hardly belive the man expects her to smile after all the tradegies she's endured. Yet, he remembers the poet from the previous day, and the warm thought makes her smile. The man approves, saying that though her teeth are nice, her smile is lovlier still. Laleena recalls that she is being sold on the slave market, like an animal, at the man's words, and she cries involuntarily. "You seem to know how to smile and how to weep. There's not much differnce between the two. That's often a good omen." He approaches Madame Siranush, eager to purchase Laleena. Madam Siranush starts bargaining. " Look at her! Her pearl teeth, her willowy walk, her eyes tinted with every color of autumn. She is a gem. It's possile I won't let her go." Laleena is once again, shocked, to hear these wonderful things said about her. "She had treated me all this time as if I were a scarecrow. But the minute somone had shown intrest..." The man lays down a large amount of coins, and sweetly refusing them, saying the price was too much. Laleena here learns that his name is Sümbül Ağa, which translates to "Master Hyacinth." The man's voice is high-pitched, and his appearance very different, but for some reason, Laleena likes him. Laleena sees the two people hassling over price, and prays that Master Hyacinth would purchase her, and she would be spared from being a beggar. In the end, Laleena grabs her sack and follows the two men behind Master Hyacinth out the door, purchased. She was put into a fancy carriage and Laleena ponders about her future. She worries over where she is going, what life would be like there, what type of master Master Hyacinth is, among other things. The counts the beads of her tesbih, which are prayer beads and prays to Allah, like she has multiple times before. She prays for kindness and good luck.
Chapter 10: Beyond the Gate of Felicity
Chapter 11: Leyla
Chapter 12: The Mistress of the Gardens
Chapter 13: Harem Life
Chapter 14: Winter
Chapter 15: The Royal Halvet
Chapter 16: The Most Beautiful Clothes
Chapter 17: The Hall of the Sultan
Chapter 18: The Secret Paintings
Chapter 19: The Dark Prison
Chapter 20: Princess Fatma
Chapter 21: Anticipation
Chapter 22: The Miracle
Chapter 23: Heart's Desire
Then and Now: Turkey
Discusses a girl's life in 1720 Turkey. Topics include:
- The size of the Ottoman Empire
- The Tokapi Palace and who lived in it.
- How girls were brought to the Tokapi Palace.
- A girl's life in the Tokapi Palace.
- What a Turkish girl would have worn.
- Why a woman would cover herself with a veil.
- Other Islamic traditions, such as passing the veil and arranged marriages.
- The Tulip Era and how it changed Turkey.
- Changes for the Republic of Turkey, including the women's right to vote.
- Life in Turkey today.
The glossary lists and defines the Turkish words used in the book and gives an approximate pronunciation. The pronunciations and spellings are only approximate because Turkish borrows sounds from Persian, French and Arabic.