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An Interview with Susanna Hoe

Author of Crete: Women, History, Books & Places

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An Interview with Susanna Hoe
Susanna Hoe's remarkable book Crete: Women, History, Books & Places draws together four thousand years of Cretan experience in a readable and engaging book. I had the chance to talk with her via email recently.

What inspired you to write this book?

Susanna Hoe: I wasn't very well in 2000-1 and we needed somewhere warm and hospitable for an October break. Crete beckoned. We rented a place a stone's throw away from the archeological site of Aptera, not far from Chania, and it was immediately clear that Crete should become part of my series 'Of Islands and Women'. We have now visited most of the island and experiencing it through the prism of women, history, books and places has added to its allure.

What surprised you most in your research?

Susanna: How much I needed to learn. That is, how much archaeological work had been done, and how much had been written - most of it tough for the uninitiated. But most of all, the involvement, from the beginning, of women archaeologists and other scholars who made a real difference both to scholarship generally and to Crete's discovery of its past. Initially those scholars were foreign, now happily many are Greek.

What was the most satisfying quest for you in your visits to the island?

Susanna: There were many moments of sheer delight of discovery. But among the most satisfying was Evmenia Vergitzi who, as a little girl, was kidnapped from her village of Kamariotis in 1645 and taken to the sultan's harem in Constantinople. She is better known in history (and in English translation) as Spring Rose-water, first and favourite wife of Mehmet IV and mother of two later sultans. I couldn't believe that I would find her village - seemingly totally unspoilt - between Tylissos and Mt Ida.

Is there a particularly special spot you'd recommend that might be missed by the ordinary traveler?

Susanna: Kritsa was the home of the legendary freedom fighter Rodanthe. It may be difficult to find her house, though I try to tell the reader how. But there is a fine bust of her in the main square, and it is easy enough to visit the Faneromeni Monastery where, unusually for a girl, she was educated. More special is Kontaratos Field a mile or two out of Kritsa on the way to Lato.

Opposite a low, concrete water tank marked in black graffiti ink with the date 1823 and details of the event, is a stony, red field, fringed by olive trees and low hills. Here, 1000 villagers fought 30,000 Ottoman troops and Rodanthe, disguised as a youth, was killed. If you use your imagination, the atmosphere of striving and sacrifice is palpable.

You're now one of the literary "Women of Crete" yourself. If you could give a message to any or all of them, what would it be?

Susanna. Oh, I couldn't claim that! But, as a sister, I'd say, a woman, whatever the culture in which she lives, can do anything if she sets her mind to it, and should. But you can see from the Cretan women I have written about that they already know that!

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