A historically astute, beautifully written portrait.
The biography of a woman haunted by her parents’ suffering as a result of the Armenian genocide.
Mary Zakarian was born in 1927 in Philadelphia, but her story begins well before that in Turkey, which her parents had called home. Her father, Moses, a musician and a weaver, departed Turkey in 1913 for the United States, leaving behind a wife and children who were killed in the 1915 genocide. Zakarian’s mother, Arek Kocharian, escaped to the U.S. in 1923 after her husband and two children also died during the genocide. An attempt at an arranged marriage between Arek and Zakar, Moses’ cousin, went awry, and Moses married her himself in 1924. When Zakarian was a young child during the Depression, Moses struggled to keep the family housed and fed. Even after their financial circumstances improved considerably, however, Zakarian was a witness and victim of their historical trauma. Arek was permanently alienated from the world—she never learned English, was deeply distrustful of others and scared of the outside world, and was prone to bouts of depression. Of Arek’s children, Zakarian was closest to her, and she adopted her fearful isolation. She never married or had kids and was plagued by anxiety and agoraphobia her entire life. But Zakarian was also a talented and ultimately successful artist. She earned considerable recognition for her painting in Philadelphia after attending several art schools, including the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, now renamed Moore College of Art and Design. She even opened an art school of her own in 1971, operated out of her home. Debut authors Allan and Susan Arpajian, the children of Zakarian’s sister, know the subject well and depict her candidly and lovingly—some of their portrait based on personal recollections and some on Zakarian’s journals and an unfinished autobiography. The authors depict Zakarian’s grim inheritance of sadness in poetically heartbreaking prose, capturing a life of suppressed guilt. Once Zakarian was reluctant to bring a particularly fetching fabric into the home because of this nagging torment: “ ‘I felt guilt and disloyalty to my mother’s pain.’ Having or enjoying beautiful things, or even engaging in a satisfying creative endeavor, was not for this daughter of a survivor.” While Zakarian’s extraordinary life, and particularly her attempt to transcend her trauma through her art, is the fulcrum of the story, the authors also ably reconstruct the history of Armenian tribulations and the resulting psychological scars. The Arpajians provide an impressively sensitive account of Zakarian’s Christianity, which was fraught with contradiction. On the one hand, it supplied some comforting reassurance, but on the other, it was more fuel for her guilt—her perceived shortcomings became sins. Despite the often melancholic subject matter, the biography is inspiriting. While it couldn’t be said that Zakarian triumphed over the emotional baggage that was her unfortunate bequest, she didn’t simply succumb to it either.A historically astute, beautifully written portrait.
Pub Date: April 17, 2017
Page Count: 188
Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017
Review Program: Kirkus Indie
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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...
Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children.
He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions.
Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006
Page Count: 120
Publisher: Hill & Wang
Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006
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by Paul Kalanithi ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 19, 2016
A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...
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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.
Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.
Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016
Page Count: 248
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015
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