In Ohanesian’s debut novel, a Turkish man
confronts secrets about his family and his country’s history and is faced with
an impossible choice: Should the past remain in the past, or should all
stories, even the most painful, come to light?
When his grandfather dies, Orhan returns from Istanbul to the small village where he grew up and the contentious relationship he shares with his father; the tension is exacerbated when his grandfather’s will reveals that he has left the family dye business to Orhan and the family house to a strange woman in an Armenian-American nursing home. While the rest of the nursing home prepares for an exhibit called “Bearing Witness: An Exhibit About Memory and Identity,” Seda at first refuses to talk to Orhan about her connection to his grandfather. When she finally unburdens herself, giving voice to a harrowing tale of unimaginable sacrifice, he must decide what to do with this new information about his family and about the horrors of his country’s history. In a complex balance, Ohanesian often condemns language as insufficient to convey these stories of loss and pain, while at the same time recognizing that telling the story can be cathartic and even universally necessary. The heart of the novel seems to suggest that “[t]here is only what is, what happened. The words come much later, corrupting everything with meaning.” There are deep reflections on guilt, both collective and individual, and the power of memory to destroy or to heal. By rejecting the power of the written word but also, in writing a novel, relying on it to be powerful, Ohanesian explores both sides of this argument about bearing witness to Turkey’s terrible legacy.
A novel that delves into the darkest corners of human history and emerges with a tenuous sense of hope.