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

ISBN: 978-1-4128-6417-6

Page Count: 188

Publisher: Routledge

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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