One day Vartan Hagopain, a well respected professor approaching retirement, collapses whilst teaching a class and is shouting of a woman his grandchildren have never heard of. This brings his brother Armen to share a story which he had been keeping a secret since he was a teenager.
It’s the story of their life during and just before the Armenian Genocide.
I mainly agreed to read this book because I knew nothing about the Armenian Genocide, a part of history which I think has largely been forgotten due to it coinciding, but not being a part of, the first world war. I tend to find stories are a good way to learn about history because they make it more real than a handful of facts.
When it came to the actual events of the Armenian Genocide itself I think this book did do quite well. It was almost brutal in the amount of detail which was given, and those who are sensitive to gore may dislike it- but that’s how it should be. I liked how Mekaelian showed both the horrible side of the genocide but also how the Armenians and sometimes others living in the Ottoman empire showed compassion and generosity even when it caused them to be at risk.
Having said this I found the first 75% of the novel difficult. I felt not much was really happening, and some things were pretty unbelievable. I almost gave up a few times.
The beginning was quite exciting, but in reflection it was pointless. There were other ways to be able to tell the story, and it made me think that it might have just been included so that the free 10% given by kindle would encourage people to buy it. Whilst this part of the story was referred to occasionally throughout the novel those parts weren’t needed either.
After the rather exciting start the tempo really slowed down are Armen started his story. The story is very much Vartan’s story to start with, but it is told by Armen. I often got frustrated at how much Armen seemed to know about Vartan’s life even when he wasn’t present. I can’t imagine that even the closest of brothers would reveal such deep thoughts and feelings to each other, and some of the smaller events probably wouldn’t be shared either. It made the writing seem a bit clunky to me, and I think that if Mekaelian wanted to get both the brothers side of things and stories then he would have been better telling the story in a different way than completely in Armen’s voice.
I also found Vartan’s relationship with Nadia to be rather superficial and unbelievable. I couldn’t see where the love was coming from. Maybe that is because it was told in Armen’s voice, but it wasn’t detailed enough to be a love story.
There was also a sort of philosophical element which seemed like it was jammed in to give meaning to the events. And, whilst something like that would have an effect on someone’s outlook on life I don’t think it needed to be a solution for Armen searching for something.
All the different elements did make me wonder if the author really knew what he wanted to write about. Did he want to write a story about the Armenian Genocide? Did he want a coming of age novel? Did he want a story of everyday life for Armenians? Did he want a love story? It just seemed a bit like he’d crammed lots of ideas together.
In terms of learning about the Armenian Genocide it probably made it worth reading for me, however there are probably better ways to learn about it, and maybe even other novels?