PERSONAL: Born in New York, NY; daughter of Abraham and Sano (Themia) Halo. Education: Attended Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture and City University of New York. Hobbies and other interests: Film, law, woodworking.
CAREER: Painter, journalist, author, and founder of the Sano Themia Halo Pontian Heritage Foundation. Announcer, writer, and producer for public radio; news correspondent for New York public radio station, WBAI.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Homer Award, American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, 2002, for Not Even My Name: From a Death March in Turkey to a New Home in America, a Young Girl's True Story of Genocide and Survival; numerous awards from City University of New York for her poetry and writing, including the Alice B. Sellers Fund Prize, the Esther Unger Poetry Prize, the James Emanuel Poetry Prize, the Reyne Prize in Creative Writing, and the Weinberg Excellence in Writing Award.
Not Even My Name: From a Death March in Turkey to a New Home in America, a Young Girl's True Story of Genocide and Survival, Picador USA (New York, NY), 2000.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A book of short stories, poetry, and essays.
SIDELIGHTS: Thea Halo, whose training and early work was as a painter, entered the literary world through the intermediate realm of radio, working at two public radio stations in the early 1990s. She began writing poetry and short stories in 1992 and won a number of prizes, but her first published book was neither fiction nor a collection of verses. Not Even My Name: From a Death March in Turkey to a New Home in America, a Young Girl's True Story of Genocide and Survival is the story of Halo's mother, Sano, but it is also the tale of a forgotten people and a tragic sequence of events all but unknown to the world of the twenty-first century.
Sano, or Themia as she was first known, was one of almost one million Pontic Greeks, a people who had lived for more than three thousand years on the Black Sea coast of Asia Minor. The minority had remained in place even after the Turkish invasions that took place over a period from about A.D. 1071 to 1461, and remained a part of the Ottoman Empire through its five centuries as a realm. But after World War I, as the regime of Mustafa Kemal (a.k.a. Atatürk) struggled to bring Turkey out of the Ottoman ashes and into the modern world—and to regain control of the regions parcelled off to Greece, Italy, France, and Britain when Turkey sued for peace at the close of World War I—Kemal resumed the nationalist ethnic cleansing of the Greeks of Asia Minor begun by the Young Turk regime in 1914. In what many regard as an act parallel to the Ottoman slaughter of the Armenians in 1915 (often considered the first modern instance of genocide), Atatürk's troops wrested the Pontic Greeks from their home and marched them to the Syrian border. By the time these convulsive events had concluded, one half of the Pontic population had died, and the rest would never return to their homes.
Among those caught in what became death marches to exile was Sano, whose life up to that time had been all but idyllic. The second of five children, she was the granddaughter of a blacksmith widely admired in the community, and her existence within the close-knit pastoral community seemed perfectly secure. During World War I, numerous Pontic Greek villages were burned along the Black Sea coast, and their inhabitants slaughtered. In Sano's village, higher in the mountains, men were conscripted into the dreaded labor camps; most never came back. The war had left Sano's village relatively intact. The Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1923 would completely undo their way of life. The first signs of change were slow in coming, as strangers began to move into nearby lands and eye the Greek villagers' lands and farms. Then came the Turkish soldiers, once again conscripting village men against their will to serve as slave laborers. Finally, in the spring of 1920, soldiers arrived with a proclamation from Atatürk and herded the entire population out of lands their people had inhabited for a hundred generations.
When they reached southeastern Turkey, the remaining members of Sano's family escaped from the soldiers, but they were destitute. Unable to provide for Sano, her mother gave her to a local Christian woman to raise, but the woman treated her as a slave and changed her name. Sano escaped to a nearby town, where an Armenian family accepted her into its household. By this time she had lost everything of her former life, even her name—hence the book's title. The Armenian family took her with them when they fled to Syria, where they arranged the marriage of the fifteen-year-old Sano to Abraham, a stranger from America who was three times her age. Abraham returned with his child-bride to America, where they settled and raised a family of ten children.
By 1989, when Sano and her daughter Thea finally visited the place of Sano's youth, Sano was already nearing the end of her ninth decade, yet she was still alive at the time of the book's publication another decade later. (Thea is "the nominal author of the work," according to Hazel Rochman in Booklist, "but her function is only to frame her mother's first-person account.") As remarkable as Sano's tale of survival was, wrote Ruth K. Baacke in Library Journal, "Even more remarkable is the lack of rancor" in Not Even My Name. In place of such ill-will is "only amazement at the hospitality and support [Thea and Sano] receive" in Turkey. Rochman, too, noted that "There are no histrionics." Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Michael Doran noted, "Sano's tale is devoid of pretense, literary or historical, and it is all the stronger for it." Yet Doran criticized Thea for occasionally intervening in the story and attempting "to reinforce a particular perspective on modern history, a view that comes close to regarding the entire Turkish people as innately hostile to minorities." But Charlotte Abbott, writing in Publishers Weekly, praised the book, noting that Thea "has written an eloquent and powerful account of this tragic chapter in Turkish history."
Halo told CA: "Besides learning about my own heritage through the writing of Not Even My Name, which was truly an amazing experience that continues to unfold, the next most surprising thing I learned was that great writing contains all the arts within it. There's the music the words create when they're strung together; the movement in the way the story weaves through virtual space; there's the architecture of the story as noted above, there's color, texture, and design, and of course the visual images created by those words, the combination of which hopefully touches the mind and the heart."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Not Even My Name: From a Death March in Turkey to a New Home in America, a Young Girl's True Story of Genocide and Survival, p. 1519.
Chicago Tribune, May 9, 2001, Barbara Brotman, "Literature Lands on New Mother Lode," review of Not Even My Name, section 8, p. 1.
Library Journal, May 1, 2000, Ruth K. Baacke, review of Not Even My Name, p. 126.
Publishers Weekly, April 10, 2000, Charlotte Abbott, Sarah F. Gold, and Mark Rotella, review of Not Even My Name, p. 84.
Washington Post Book World, July 9, 2000, Michael Doran, "Two Turkish Tales," review of Ataturk, and Not Even My Name, p. X8.
Thea Halo Home Page,http://www.notevenmyname.com/ (September 8, 2003).