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Not Even My Name: A True Story

Not Even My Name: A True Story

by Thea Halo

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A riveting account of exile from Turkish genocide, brought to light for the first time ever in Sano Halo's personal story

Not Even My Name exposes the genocide carried out during and after WW I in Turkey, which brought to a tragic end the 3000-year history of the Pontic Greeks (named for the Pontic Mountain range below the Black Sea). During this time


A riveting account of exile from Turkish genocide, brought to light for the first time ever in Sano Halo's personal story

Not Even My Name exposes the genocide carried out during and after WW I in Turkey, which brought to a tragic end the 3000-year history of the Pontic Greeks (named for the Pontic Mountain range below the Black Sea). During this time, almost 2 million Pontic Greeks and Armenians were slaughtered and millions of others were exiled.

Not Even My Name is the unforgettable story of Sano Halo's survival, as told to her daughter, Thea, and of their trip to Turkey in search of Sano's home 70 years after her exile. Sano Halo was a 10-year-old girl when she was torn from her ancient, pastoral way of life in the mountains and sent on a death march that annihilated her family. Stripped of everything she had ever held dear, even her name, Sano was sold by her surrogate family into marriage when still a child to a man three times her age.

Not Even My Name follows Sano's marriage, the raising of her ten children in New York City, and her transformation as an innocent girl who was forced to move from a bucolic life to the 20th century in one bold stride. Written in haunting and eloquent prose, Not Even My Name weaves a seamless texture of individual and group memory, evoking all the suspense and drama of the best told tales.

Editorial Reviews

The horrific tale of the genocide of Armenians carried out by the Turkish government early in the 20th century has been told in several excellent books; but how many people, outside of the Greek community, know about the fate of the Greeks during that period? They had been living in Asia Minor for thousands of years, before the Turks arrived, before Alexander the Great. Thea Halo tells the personal story of her mother, born in 1910 in a Greek village in the Pontic Mountains near the Black Sea. When she was 10 years old, she and her family were forced to leave their home and march south in what proved to be a death march. Her whole family died or was otherwise lost to her; she was taken in by several families until her marriage was arranged when she was 15 years old. Her husband was 30 years her senior, but an American citizen of Assyrian heritage, who could take her to America to safety. One of the foster mothers couldn't pronounce her name, Themia, and started calling her Sano, a name that stuck, so she left her childhood home and heritage without even her name (hence the title). This book is divided into several parts. One part is the journey of Sano and Thea back to Turkey to try to find Sano's village; one part is Sano's narrative, telling of her early childhood memories before the horror of ethnic cleansing and genocide, the memories of the march, the deaths, the separation, the marriage; another section tells of Sano's family life in America. Obviously, Sano's story of her experiences as a child and young adolescent is the section of this book that will have the most appeal to YAs—especially the dramatic events of the march, her separation from her family, and her marriage.Greek Americans will be most drawn to this book, of course, since most Greek families have some personal knowledge of the expulsion from Asia Minor. Thea Halo, in telling her family's story, fills in the history of her people and the complicated politics in Turkey and Greece that led to the expulsion in the 1920s. David Kherdian's story of his mother's experiences as a young Armenian in Turkey at this same time period, Road From Home, may be known to most librarians—this is a companion story, published as an adult book, that should be in most libraries. Kherdian is an accomplished writer, and Thea Halo is as well. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, St. Martin's, Picador, 328p. illus. notes., $14.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)
From the Publisher

“In telling her mother's epic story of survival and ultimate triumph in America, Thea Halo has written an important book about a largely unknown history: the genocide of the Pontic Greeks at the hands of the Turkish government in the years following World War I. Thea Halo's deeply moving portrait of her mother reverberates with large moral issues that affect us all.” —Peter Balakian, author of Black Dog of Fate

“As written by her daughter, Thea, Sano's harrowing account of the destruction of her family and her world is told with such vivid detail that every page sears the mind and heart . . . A work of burning intensity, self-evidently powerful and true.” —Nicholas Gage, author of Eleni

“Deeply moving . . . It is impossible to read the story of this woman's life without marveling at the strength of her spirit.” —The Washington Post Book World

“A story of personal strength and the great triumph of mere survival.” —The New York Times

“Thea Halo tells this sad story with simple grace.” —U.S. News & World Report

“An unforgettable book.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Sano Halo's tale is devoid of pretense, literary or historical, and it is all the stronger for it.” —Michael Doran, Washington Post Book World

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Chapter One


New York City—August 1997

Tourists line the railing of the ferry. I take my place among them and watch the river dance toward the ocean in shimmering, jagged peaks the color of steel. Above Ellis Island a single white cloud hangs in a clear blue sky. August is warm on my shoulders. The ferry rumbles, then cuts a slow are around the great green lady holding her torch high above her head. Does she have a bad side? None I can detect from here.

    The Great Hall of Ellis Island is grand as I enter, but too pristine. I know it was not so when my parents passed through seventy-two years before. The rows of benches are gone now, but I imagine the clamor of thousands of voices and babies crying as they wait for word. So this was the last leg of my mother's journey, where doctors felt for telltale lumps and searched for sickly eyes, weary from the long ocean crossing. I could almost hear the doctor's voice and see his fingers gently touch the scars on my mother's leg as she raised her skirt for the examination.

    "What's this?" the doctor asks my mother of the two small scars.

    "All that's left," my mother answers.

    "Hurry!" my father says, grabbing her hand, "before they change their minds."

    In the photo gallery the faces of hundreds of immigrants stare at me from the walls, bearing the same expression my mother wears in the photo of her at fifteen on the day of her wedding. There is no grimace of pain, no knitted brows;only an unmistakable sorrow that seems to say, [my flame is almost out.

    "You've got dimples on your leg, Mommy," I once said when my mother's scars first caught my eye as a child. I pulled down my trousers and looked for dimples on my own leg.

    "They're not dimples," my mother said. "You won't find them on your leg, sweetheart."

    "Then what are they?" I said.

    And for just one moment I saw that look in my mother's eyes as she drifted away from me. "All that's left," she said and closed her eyes. "All that's left."

    In the courtyard of Ellis Island, row upon row of silver placards testify to those admitted. I find my parents' names and kneel before them. Sano Themía Halo. Abraham A. Halo. My sister Harty had included my mother's real name on the entry.

    "Were you excited when your ship pulled into port and you saw Manhattan across the river sparkling in the August sun?" I once asked my mother.

    "Not at first," she said. "I had already learned not to wish for things I couldn't have and along with that went my expectations."

    I glide my fingertips over the grooves that spell out their names on the placards and feel the great emotion denied my mother on that day welling up in me.

* * *

There had always been only us: my mother, my father, my five sisters and four brothers, one uncle, an Armenian aunt—probably with her own sad story to tell—and their daughter who married and moved away too soon. Then a void.

    We lived on West One hundred second Street in New York City, but it was very different from the way it is now. In the '40s and '50s it was like a page out of West Side Story. We lived in a five-room railroad flat; each room led into the other like boxcars. It was a five-flight walk-up above a half-flight brownstone stoop. For the twenty years that my family lived there, my mother carried bikes and babies, sometimes one on each hip, and groceries and toys, and all the other things one carries up and down, up and down those five flights of stairs.

    We grew up among the Irish mostly, although there were other races and nationalities in the surrounding neighborhoods and in our schools. But our heritage had been a mystery to us as children. We came from two lost civilizations. Both my parents came from Turkey, and their people had been there for thousands of years, but they were not Turks. No one had ever heard of my mother's people—the Pontic Greeks of Asia Minor (Turkey)—and my father's people, the Assyrians, were believed to have lived only in ancient times but were no more. As a child I never mentioned my mother's heritage, and the few times I responded to questions of my father's heritage I was corrected with great authority.

    "No, dear. You mean you're Syrian. The Assyrians are an ancient people. They don't exist anymore." Even my teachers told me that.

    How could I be something that doesn't exist?

    "They called us Rüm," my mother would say about her own people, pronouncing the word "room." And that was even more confusing. What was Rüm? Even my mother's language was lost to her because she had no one with whom she could speak her ancient Greek. Without even the sound of her Greek language to help me identify with her culture as a child, I was left with nothing but her few stories.

    But Rüm or Pontic Greek, as a child of the '40s and '50s, I had just assumed that all mothers were more or less like mine. Or rather, I would have assumed it had I given it any thought. She had the kind of figure you might expect on a mother in 1950s America; kind of plump but not fat; perfect for those short-sleeved housedresses that buttoned down the front. They were usually full of flowers. She had a sweet, wistful smile and those innocent black eyes—with just a trace of sadness about the brow—that smiled out at you from beneath the rolled wreath of black hair that framed her lovely face.

    As to her birthday, my mother had never known the real date of her birth, so someone somewhere along the line had chosen May 10. It usually coincided with Mother's Day appropriately enough. With ten kids—I was the eighth—I don't remember her ever just sitting without doing something. There was always so much that had to be done. She was always cooking or cleaning, baking, making clothes, crocheting. And she was always singing. I could recite her favorite songs: "Blue Skies," "Little Man You're Crying," "Oh, Johnny," "Paper Moon," and a hundred more like those, all as American as the proverbial apple pie, which she also baked to perfection.

    Her musical ear gave her an easy grasp of languages so I never really noticed an accent. But there were a few words that made us all laugh, like the way she pronounced "wheat" with a heavy emphasis on the H. Haweet. And her attempts at the American slang of the '50s could have you rolling in the aisles. Each time we laughed at her, all she could do was cover her face with her hands and laugh with embarrassment.

    "Oooooooh sugar!"' she'd say.

    Since my mother rarely talked about her childhood there wasn't too much to remind us that she wasn't born in America. Considering her circumstances when my father happened upon her, some might say he rescued her from oblivion, but sometimes I wonder who rescued whom.

    She cooked all of America's traditional fare, and for Christmas there was turkey with rice and chestnut stuffing; sweet potatoes, topped with pineapple and marshmallows; fresh cranberry and walnut sauce; mashed potatoes and gravy; apple and pumpkin pies. But there was also the stuffed grape leaves on holidays, and the meat pies my mother called chamborak, which she fried in a pan, and her special rolls with black seeds. All those exotic scents would mingle to fill the air. My father bought sweets from the Middle Eastern markets: Turkish delight; the pressed sheets of apricot we called garmardine; a sweet made of strung walnuts or pistachios surrounded by a thick grape coating and sprinkled with powdered sugar; and the tins of halvah, and baklava that he'd spread out on the table.

    It was those little things like the words mispronounced, a foreign word thrown in, the stories and songs, and the Turkish delight and stuffed grape leaves that reminded us our parents came from someplace else; that there was something unknown about them; that they were separate from us in some unfathomable way.

Meet the Author

Thea Halo resides in New York City, as does her mother, Sano, who is now in her eighties.

Thea Halo has worked as an announcer, producer, and correspondent for public radio. She has won a number of awards for her poetry and other writing, which includes short stories, plays, and a newspaper column. She is the author of Not Even My Name.

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