Kalajian’s (co-author: They Had No Voice: My Fight for Alabama’s Forgotten Children, 2013, etc.) “ethno-memoir” is an elegiac reflection on growing up under the specter of the trials a family, and a whole people, experienced.
Kalajian, in his third book, touches upon both his upbringing as an American boy and his being a bearer of a tortured Armenian past. The remembrances are deeply personal meditations on what it was like to live distanced from a world with which he had very little direct contact even as it powerfully shaped his life. Readers will sense the author’s background as an investigative journalist as he tries to wrestle the facts of his history from his family’s laconic resistance to speak openly about it. Kalajian’s inscrutable father is a near mystery; only slowly, in fits and starts, does Kalajian learn about his adventurous but hardship-ridden life. He had no idea his father went to China or Borneo and no idea his father grew up in Greece or that he was raised in an orphanage. Even his more voluble mother’s tales were carefully edited and studiously redacted. While not intended as a work of rigorous scholarship, Kalajian’s book contains considerable discussion about the history of Armenians, and much is revealed about their experience with Turkish persecution and global neglect. However, this is largely an autobiographical tale. “I am not a historian, and this is not a book of facts and dates and sober analysis,” he says. “This is a story told by a man born in midair whose only hope for a good night’s sleep is to close his fingers around the frayed cord of history and tug with all his might.” His polished, sometimes even poetic prose evokes a sense of curiosity and lament. In response to his family’s silence—and to the silence of a whole people still shellshocked by their grim treatment—Kalajian has become a professional storyteller and an excellent one at that.
An affecting account of an American man attempting to uncover his Armenian heritage and history.