Those of you familiar with the Kurt Seyit ve Sura series on Netflix have likely found your way here because you’re captivated with the period drama, and want to know the true story behind the TV series.
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But if you love period drama and haven’t seen Kurt Seyit ve Sura yet, you are in for a treat. Perhaps you missed it on Netflix because it’s listed under Turkish Drama and is subtitled. But don’t let that deter you: viewers who hit ‘play’ are often left in awe by Kivanc Tatlitug’s acting in the moving romantic story of a Turkish lieutenant and the daughter of Russian nobles who fight for their love against forces of family, social expectation and historical events of the early 20th century.
Kurt Seyit ve Sura has a way of staying with viewers for weeks after their 46 episode binge.
Today Willow and Thatch talks with Nermin Bezmen, the author of the bestseller Kurt Seyt and Shura, the story of her grandfather that inspired the TV series.
She’s answering questions submitted by our very own Willow and Thatch readers. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the true story of Kurt Seyit and Sura and then read the book, so you can immerse yourself in the story, told only as Seyit’s granddaughter could.
The book is now available in English: you can order “Kurt Seyt & Shura” in English here.
Please note: there are spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t yet watched, you may prefer to read 7 Reasons to Watch Kurt Seyit & Sura, watch, and then come back here.
Welcome, Nermin! Let’s get right to our Q&A.
Nermin Bezmen: Thank you for giving me the chance to share my thoughts with your readers.
It’s our pleasure. Thank you for answering the following questions submitted by our readers, and to Tolga Savaci, who played the character Yahya Bey in the period drama, and answers a question as well.
Reader question: I saw the series on Netflix and I am currently reading the book. It is beautiful! When you were writing the book did you ever think that one day it would be adapted for a TV series?
NB: I started my research in 1987 and it took me four full years dedicated to finding out as much as I could about the characters and the time period of the saga. The first three sequels of the saga Kurt Seyit & Shura, Kurt Seyit & Murka, and Mengene Göçmenleri (The Immigrants of Mengan) were published right after each other, in 1992, 1993, 1994. They all hit the best seller lists immediately.
Many TV and movie producers have been after the story from the first day it hit the charts and it though it excited me, I had put so much love, affection, passion and also years of painstaking research, sleepless nights, and had shed so many tears over Kurt Seyit & Shura, that I simply could not hand it over to someone I did not completely trust.
So I waited.
Yes, I always had hope that one day some producer who would take the story into her/his heart would approach it with the great passion that it deserved.
Ay Yapim was the perfect producer to shake hands with for this project. Finally the series was realized and now it is travelling all around the world side by side with the book.
Reader question: This is the best TV series I have ever watched. Did you have actors in mind that you wanted to portray your grandfather and Shura? How much influence did you have in making the series? All the actors were just perfect in the parts they played.
NB: I didn’t want to interfere with the casting and Ay Yapim is a very serious, professional, prestigious production company. Also, I don’t follow any TV series, so I wouldn’t have had any idea of who to cast. I just had to trust the producer. But, honestly I was on the edge until I learned the names of the actors. I just knew that I would not like any actor with a scandalous life, or with unnatural looks take part in my story. But they were all perfect. They all loved the characters they were playing, and they all traveled back in time to adopt their roles in the most perfect way.
Reader question: Did the actors read your book to prepare for their characters, or did they just stick to the script?
NB: The producers and the script writer knew all the sequels almost by heart, and some of the actors had already read the book. The rest did not have much time to do so after they were chosen for the project.
Everything went very fast and we were immediately in the shooting process and there was only time left to read the script and practice the lines. In any case, the script is the “Bible of the story” after the production is under way.
Reader question: Can Tolga Savaci, who played the character Yahya Bey talk about what it was like to be in the series? (Tolga had been a superstar of Turkish TV series and movies for over three decades; he was like what Kıvanç is today, and was the lead male actor in seventeen series and twenty-three films made for the cinema.)
TS: I’ve been in several series but being a part of the series of my beloved wife was delightful.
Reader question: Was your grandfather Kurt Seyit Eminof able to keep any mementos from the Crimean war, such as a medal, clothing or a ring that is still with your family now?
NB: There is a whole chapter about this in the book. Yes, my grandpa had quite a few medals, merits that he was given, some from the Czar himself, also a valuable family ring and a special monogrammed watch from the Czar as a gift, too. When he escaped to Turkey, he brought all these and his rubles in a down pillow that was a souvenir from his childhood. Unfortunately when he wanted to buy the laundry where he was working with Shura, the rubles of the Tsarist Russia were devalued and he had to sell all his mementos at the Covered Bazaar in İstanbul… with tears in his eyes and an ache in his heart for they were the only objects that connected him to his past. From that group of mementos, only one remains and that is the pillow which my mom had given to me when I was little and I still dream on it, the dreams of my grandpa which were interrupted.
There was also a lovely chest in typical Russian style ‘Khokhloma’ given to him as a gift on his 12th birthday by the last Czar, Nicholas II, which he had to leave behind, buried under a tree in Alushta. Who knows who has it now?
But although it seems that nothing is left from my grandpa, I believe I have the most valuable and priceless piece from him; and that is his life story.
Reader question: My grandfather was a guard in the Tsars Army. I was told you had to be of a certain height, look, weight etc. to be his guard. Is that true?
NB: Yes. My grandpa entered the St. Petersburg Military Academy at the age of twelve. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he was trained to be a very good horse rider, athletic and strong and bold above all. He also had an interest and talent in learning languages, philosophy, poetry, and art to embellish his military education and charming looks.
Reader question: Did Seyit have to join the Turkish rebellion and leave Shura alone and unprotected for days and months?
NB: My grandpa was already smuggling arms and ammunition to the Atatürk Independence Army while he was still in Crimea. At one point he had to escape in the same boat with the arms he prepared. I know that he also continued to work underground when he was in Turkey but he kept those details to himself. But him “leaving Shura unprotected for days and months” is a fabrication which was created for the scenario. He was always a free soul but never abandoned his loved ones or the ones who depended on him, exposing them to ferocities and danger.
Reader question: After all the drama and heartache they went through why didn’t Seyit fight for Shura? Why didn’t he propose to her?
NB: From what my grandma told me there was no hint whatsoever that Kurt Seyit and Shura had ever discussed getting married. If they did, that was not something my grandpa shared with his wife.
I’ve interviewed many other White Russians who actually lived at the same period of time, and I realized that most of them were frightened to bond themselves to a person (no matter how much they loved each other), or to a place. They never knew what the future held. Not getting married, but living together as a couple, was very common among those immigrants at the time.
Let’s not forget that for years all the White Russian émigrés kept hoping that one day they would be able to go back to their motherland. That is why they did not give away their passports, they did not spend their rubles. And they knew that going back might easily separate or divide them from their loved ones again.
In 1990s, while I was doing my research, seventy odd years after the revolution, there were still many White Russians who had never gotten married to their partners, and most of them chose not to have children or to own any real estate.
Other than that, sometimes sharing such great traumas, full of bloodshed, heartaches, immigration, surviving, yearnings, struggle can tire and wear out one’s heart, mind and soul. Sometimes lovers can end up with nothing but a sore and tired psychology. They start hurting each other just because they are a reminder of turmoil they went through, as much as they are of the great, happier times.
Reader question: Is it true Seyit took his own life?
NB: Yes, it is true. During one of his business trips to Anatolia the train was stuck for a day in the middle of nowhere under a heavy snowstorm. He gave his coat, hat, and scarf to a lady with two kids to keep them warm. He was sick when he came back. Being an athletic and strong healthy man all his life he did not take it seriously. Then when it got worse, he was stubborn not to take care of himself and he contracted tuberculosis.
This was during World War II, when everything was scarce and the country was in dire straits. Very soon he could not work. He had unbearable pains, he could not breathe. His medical bills started accumulating. My grandma put away her fur coat and designer wardrobe and started working in a factory where they were manufacturing ladies’ silk stockings. When he started coughing blood and the doctors told him that it was the end, he could not see himself waiting for death in bed, watching his wife trying to keep up with the burden of this tragic life for months to come. It was not a life-style for a man like Kurt Seyit; it was very insulting and hurtful.
Kurt Seyit did not have a delirium. On the contrary, his suicide was very well planned and executed. And with his execution he set his wife free of the hopeless torture of every day life his illness had been causing. As I said, he liked challenging life and death also. He simply said: “Okay death, you wanna take me? I’ll go before you come! I win again!”
I know, for some of the fans of the series; Kurt Seyit’s suicide is connected with his remorse over Shura’s departure. While this may be more romantic and also for some it is the kind of punishment Kurt Seyit deserved for sending her away. But so much water has passed under the bridge by this point. Twenty-two years had passed and Murka and Seyit had already shared so much love. What I told you above was the soul reason for Kurt Seyit’s suicide.
Reader question: Why did Seyit marry Murka? And why so quickly? Was it really related to his father’s wish?
NB: Kurt Seyit was the kind of man who chose to challenge fate when life was unpleasant. Even his stubborn way of choosing to end his own life proves that. He was also a man who thought fast, made decisions fast, some due to his character, some to his military education. But he could also be hasty in his decisions if he felt he was cornered, no matter what the outcome would be.
His psychology behind marrying Murka is a reflection of this character.
His father’s wish was not the fundamental reason for his decision, but feeling lonely, misunderstood, out of place, yearning for his homeland, loved ones – also desperately searching for a new place that would make him feel at home and knowing that his love with and for Shura was only hurting them – all brought him to a point where he just dove into a new direction.
Reader question: I heard that years later Seyit wrote to Shura. Did he? What did he say? Did he never grow to love his wife?
NB: I know that Kurt Seyit and Shura corresponded for some time and I know from my grandma that even after the first few years of their marriage grandpa was still thinking of Shura, and became nostalgic about her. But he loved Murka, too. He teased and spoiled her, cared for her, tried his best to bring out the strong woman in her and he went out of his way to make life as comfortable and luxurious as possible for his wife and daughters. Although, like most other White Russians, he was determined not to own any real estate, he bought a lovely house and made it a gift to my grandma when he got sick, because it was something she desired very much.
Reader question: Did Shura ever find happiness?
NB: Shura, after quite a few disappointments and some harsh times, finally had a happy marriage with a very kind gentleman. They had a daughter in America. What is important is that she was loved and worshipped by her husband. Of course they too had their ups and downs, but they stuck together.
Reader question: I am wondering how faithfully the story follows the lives of the real people? Are there any major changes or added main characters? How true is the movie to the actual events?
NB: This book is not a memoir and it is not a biography, either. It is a novel based on a true story. When you narrate a voyage in time there is no way you can put aside some fictional additions.
In a historical saga, even after long and painstaking research, there are still gaps and to make the characters and events come alive. As an author you have to fill those gaps with proper, necessary characters, events, and dialogues, so they all become connected and start to breathe. But to do this right, you have to become very familiar with the psychology and the times of the characters so you don’t do or say anything they would not.
All the main events, main characters in the novel are true. On the other hand, the TV series has a whole different kind of approach and dynamic. You can never adapt a literary work to the screen page by page. It is not possible physically, financially, or logically for the language of the series. So fabrications, and alterations come in. For example:
In a television series you’ll likely want a protagonist (hero) alongside your antagonist (villain) so there is a constant duel that keeps the watchers at the edge of their seats. (That is why Petro’s fate and timing was very different in the series from the truth. In the book , you are more satisfied with his end.)
You also need cliffhangers and intrigues to be woven into the relations to keep the viewer waiting for the next episode. (The characters in İstanbul like baroness, Ayşe, Petro, Billy was all fabricated for this.)
In the novel as an author you can write pages of what your character is thinking, how he is seeing and understanding things, how is he going to decide, what his or her secrets are, etc. But in the series, you cannot tell anything unless you show it. So, you need a constant character who the hero shares his inner thought with. (That is why Celil was brought to İstanbul in the series whereas in real life he stayed in Russia.)
In the novel as a writer I can narrate while I keep traveling between places and times in each chapter. But in the series, there is no way to build all the sets, rent all the locations and hire all the actors from the beginning to the end of thirty, forty episodes. It is not realistic. So you kill some of them off before they actually die and make some of them stay longer for the reasons above.
So, one should watch the series as a feast to the eye and ear, and read the book as a literary work of art, and enjoy both but not expect them to be identical.
Reader question: I would like to know more about Guside and Celil, please. Were they real people? I loved these characters as well as Yahya Bey.
NB: Güzide never actually existed. She was made up for the series, to ruin Yahya’s life. Celil was real and he was the best chum of Seyit. Tatya was real, too. But she did not have a baby, and she did not die in Alushta. The couple did not make it to İstanbul or anywhere else as far as I know so far, though I am still searching for them. They both stayed back in Alushta and that is the last time we have heard from them.
Yasef Zargovich was another real person and a character in the book. Although he had joined the Reds he was a great help in arranging Kurt Seyit’s escape, unlike in the series.
Yahya was also another character, who was in real life a cousin and also a close friend and Kurt Seyit’s partner in a few business ventures. His life was completely altered for the script and the details fabricated. In reality, Yahya was married to a beautiful German woman and lived a very long and happy life. He was always there when Kurt Seyit was ill, and when Shura was in İstanbul a week after my grandpa’s funeral, she stayed at Yahya’s Hotel and found out about Kurt Seyit from him.
Reader question: Was Seyit really kidnapped on the day he was supposed to marry Shura?
NB: No, this was created for the series.
Reader question: When Seyit fell off the cliff with his horse in the TV series, was it an embellishment based on the 2015 film The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio, or did that actually happen?
NB: That was a real event. For me, this part of my grandpa’s adventure has been one of the most captivating parts of his story, ever since my very early childhood years when I listened to my grandma’s stories. And this novel was published in 1992, long before DiCaprio’s film.
Reader question: I read somewhere that Petro did not go to Turkey as the show depicts. What really happened?
NB: Petro came after Kurt Seyit and his family. Since he knew the Eminoff family and the area he was in charge of penalizing them! My grandpa, finding out about his presence in Alushta and his evil motives, got a hold of him, made him dig his own grave in the forest and shot him to death in it.
Reader question: Did Shura meet Seyit’s wife Murka in reality?
NB: Yes, they did meet at Kurt Seyit’s business office. It was originally through my grandma that I knew what Shura looked like. When I received her photograph years later, after I had already written the novel, I was speechless, and was in tears for she was exactly the same lovely woman who I had narrated according to my grandma’s description.
Reader question: This story hits close to home for me, in many ways. I loved it! Is there any possibility of continuing the story as a TV series?
NB: At the moment there is no such project. But the producers have ended in such a way that if someone else wants to go on with the saga, there is no reason why they could not.
Reader question: Is the book Shura going to be translated to English? Do we find out what happens to her? What about Seyit ve Murka?
NB: This saga consists of six sequels so far. In each one of them one of the main characters’ life (keeping parallel to the other’s lives also) is narrated. Kurt Seyit & Murka is second in line and then comes Shura – Paris Years, where I wrote about her first three years there. And there will be one more abut her American life. But their printing depends on if the sales of Kurt Seyit & Shura will cover the expenses, which were huge, for the professional translation and editing.
Mengene Göçmenleri (The Immigrants of Mengan), Dedem Kurt Seyit & Ben (My Grandpa Kurt Seyit and Me), and Bir Harp Gelini (Wartime Bride) complete the saga for the moment.
Reader question: I am looking for the book in French and I went to a library in France last week but they did not know about this book. Does a French or Spanish translation exist?
NB: Not yet. But besides English, this book has been translated to eleven other languages and mostly together with the second sequel Kurt Seyit & Murka.
Reader question: Is Shura buried in California? Under what name?
NB: Yes, she is buried in California as Alexandra (Sandra) Nash and her mother Ykaterina Nicholaevna is also buried there side by side with Shura.
Reader question: What happened to Seyit’s brother that was still alive?
NB: Mahmut, the one who stayed behind with his wife had another tragedy under the Stalin era. The rest of the family were tortured, killed and those who survived were sent to Siberia and then to Ozbekistan.
Osman, the youngest brother, who was shot by the Bolsheviks on the shores of Alushta during the escape was not dead as my grandpa had thought.
Only a few months ago I had a call from Alushta. During a very shocking (in a pleasant way) phone conversation with the new generation of my family members, I learned that Osman had actually not died. He was saved by a fisherman and hidden in his hut for months until he recovered from his near fatal wounds. He survived that death only to then live a very adventurous and tragic life. That is another book to narrate. And his son who told me all about this died the very next morning after our phone call, as if he had waited to go until he shared this missing puzzle piece with me…
Reader question: Do you plan on doing a book signing across the US?
NB: Yes I do, and I have already started. Last summer some fans got together and met me and Tolga here in New Jersey over lunch. Last week I was invited by the American-Turkish Women’s League for a speech and book signing in New York’s Strand Bookstore.
On March 18, 2018, KTNA (Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ North America) fans have arranged a lovely gathering with me and Tolga in Weehawken, New Jersey over lunch, book signing and a fire-side chat afterwards, which will go on for four hours. I have other programs in line just waiting for the days and places to be confirmed.
Friends and fans who are interested in joining us for this upcoming event can see the details and tickets here.
If you can’t make it to this gathering, see our events page which will will always be updated with the latest happenings.
You can order the book Kurt Seyt & Shura in English here.
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About the book Kurt Seyt & Shura: An instant best seller since its debut in 1992, Nermin Bezmen’s Kurt Seyt & Shura is a classic of contemporary Turkish literature, a sweeping romantic drama set around the time as the splendor of Imperial Russia is obliterated in the wake of the Great War. Bezmen tells the story of two star-crossed lovers fleeing the wave of devastation wreaked by the Bolshevik Revolution– and does so with great sensitivity: one half of this couple who sought refuge in the capital of the dying Ottoman Empire was her grandfather.
English-speaking fans will now be able to read the true story of this great love affair, which triumphed over so much adversity yet failed to overcome human fallibility. Kurt Seyt: The son of a wealthy Crimean nobleman, is a dashing first lieutenant in the Imperial Life Guard. Injured on the Carpathian front and later sought by the Bolsheviks, he makes a daring escape across the Black Sea. Too proud to accept payment for the boatful of arms he hands over to the Nationalists, he faces years of struggle to make a new life in the Turkish Republic rising from the embers of the dying Ottoman Empire.
All he has is his dignity and love. Shura: An innocent sixteen-year-old beauty enchanted by Tchaikovsky’s music and Moscow’s glittering lights, falls in love with Seyt. A potential victim of the Bolsheviks due to her family’s wealth and social standing, she is determined to follow her heart and accompanies Seyt on his perilous flight over the Black Sea. Their love is the only solace to their crushing homesickness for a land and family they will never see again, two lovers among hundreds of thousands of White Russian émigrés trying to eke out a living in occupied Istanbul.
About Nermin Bezmen: Nermin Bezmen was born in 1954, and raised in Turkey. Her first brush with literature came in 1991 when she published her collected poems in a volume entitled Love that Awakens. She was already an accomplished journalist as well as a TV Hostess when she, after 8 years of researching her roots in the Crimea, Russia, Prussia, Romania and France, wrote her first historical real life saga. It is focused on the suffering, aspirations, obstinacy, proud arrogance, patient endurance, deep love and painful longing of her ancestors: Kurt Seyt & Shura, published in 1992, became a national bestseller, as did her second novel, Kurt Seyt & Murka. Her third and fourth novel are entitled The Immigrants of Mengene and The Wings of My Mind respectively.
About Kivanc Tatlitug: The extraordinary talent and swoon-worthy good looks of Turkish actor Kivanc Tatlitug have made him the biggest star in the Middle East for nearly a decade. His popularity in North America soared when Neflix began offering Kurt Seyit ve Sura in late 2016. If you would like to find out more about Kivanc Tatlitug or connect with nearly 45,000 other English-speaking fans, join us on FB, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the Period Films List – the best costume dramas, heritage films, documentaries, period dramas, romances, historical reality series and period inspired movies, sorted by era and theme. You’ll also want to read 5 Reasons to watch The Road to Calvary, another historical romance on Netflix. Also see our review about Kurt Seyit & Sura here.