An Armenian wrestles with memories of his terrible childhood, the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Turks. Marcom confronted the genocide head-on in her first novel, Three Apples Fall From Heaven (2001).
Some people never recover from childhood. Vahé Tcheubjian is one. In 1963, the 46-year-old cabinetmaker is living in Beirut with his Armenian wife, Juliana. The two have a childless but calm, stable marriage. But suddenly, Vahé’s memories surge back. The first enduring image is his arrival in Beirut at age five, having traveled from Turkey, with hundreds of other Armenian orphans, in filthy boxcars. The train stops, and the naked children are running joyously into the Mediterranean. The joy is short-lived, however, and Vahé will spend his next 11 years in an orphanage of Dickensian grimness. He’ll be taunted as a “Turk dog” because he speaks only Turkish, having been abandoned by his mother in circumstances Vahé can’t nail down. His unlikely savior is Vosto, the utterly abject newcomer who replaces Vahé as the lowest of the low. Vahé rapes Vosto along with the others. Marcom uses the steady accretion of images to build her story, and her capricious punctuation mirrors Vahé’s tortuous mental processes. In adulthood, his routines change, putting his marriage at risk. No more church on Sunday: Instead, he goes to the zoo, burning Jumba the chimp with his cigarettes—the chimp making a fitting substitute for the former “monkeyboy.” The same mix of cruelty and affection emerges in Vahé’s obsession with the Palestinian servant girl from the refugee camps; eventually, he forces himself on her (and Juliana interrupts them). It’s more than simple lust: In penetrating this outsider’s wretchedness, Vahé is back where he belongs, in the jungle.
Marcom’s second (squarely in the Joyce/Faulkner tradition) isn’t easy going. It amounts to a dogged examination, through an individual consciousness, of how the beast in us, properly nurtured, is always ready to spring. A brave undertaking, if only partially successful.