We must begin with the sleuth himself, of course. Yashim is as old as the 19th century, thirty six years old when he makes his first appearance in The Janissary Tree. He is the sultan’s confidential agent, or tebdil khasseky, in succession to Fevzi Ahmed – of whom much more in An Evil Eye (Yashim No. 4). Unlike Fevzi Ahmed, Yashim can visit anywhere and talk to anyone in Istanbul… for Yashim is a eunuch. Although he can make love, he will never father children.
You want to know how that works? Then you need to read Yashim No. 5, The Baklava Club. I’m afraid that’s all the explanation I can give you here.
I don’t want to press the eunuch theme (which makes some men cross their legs), but it is a metaphor for Yashim’s role as a sleuth. All through history, eunuchs were created to serve in the palace bureaucracy – it’s true for imperial China, and ancient Persia, as for the Byzantines and their successors, the Ottomans. Without family, their interests were allied with the ruler’s own ambitions and desires, making them men a ruler could safely trust.
The Byzantines are thought to have modelled their representations of angels on eunuchs: chaste, and intercessionary, passing between the divine and the sublunary world. Above all, their role is to serve.
So Yashim, too, serves his sultan, and the people, and the requirements of justice.
He is also a fabulous cook, preparing the Thursday night dinner for his old friend Count Palewski, Polish ambassador to the Porte, as the Ottoman court was called. He draws on the full repetoire of Ottoman Turkish dishes, many of them first elucidated in the kitchens of Topkapi Palace, where Yashim was trained. It’s this palace tradition that allows Turkish cookery to be ranked as one of the three great classical cuisines of the world. The other two are French and Chinese.
Yashim has been well-trained. He has worked in the palace, and out of it, for a Greek merchant. He speaks many languages, and reads voraciously – French novels are a favourite, passed to him by the Valide, the Queen Mother, of whom more in a subsequent post!
It’s lovely to get more of Yashim’s backstory. He is one of my favorite characters – the kind I wish I could know in realiity!
Thanks, Audrey: glad you enjoyed reading it.
I’d love it if you would collect all of Yashim’s recipes into a cookbook.
Thank you, Ron. Your wish, as the djinns say, is my command! I’d love to do it too. Best, Jason
I have now have read the first two books of Yashim and loved your books. I wish there was an illustrated graphic novel or something which would show your thoughts and places and people etc.etc.
Thanks, Steve. Maybe Yashim’s Cook Book, when it appears, will be the answer? all best, Jason
I am really enjoying the entire series after finding The Janissary Tree at a library book sale. It’s like taking a mental exotic vacation! I am wondering what languages everyone is interacting in. With Yashim and Palewski and the Valide: probably Turkish? Or French? But in The Baklava Club, what language are the young Italians and the Dane speaking in Palewski’s house? And what about Marta? And George the vegetable seller? It is such a melting pot!
A very challenging question, but when in doubt, it will be French. Yashim speaks French to Palewski, as do his boisterous young visitors: Marta and George, of course, speak Greek. Palewski and Yashim both understand Greek. Palewski has Italian, too, from his Napoleonic campaign days. Such a babel! As a child I would listen to my step-mother, raised in France to German parents, switching back and forth from English to French to german, often in the same sentence.