A journalist debuts with a memoir of the struggles of his Armenian family to survive the political and military complexities and cruelties of the past century.
The history of Armenia is tangled, and the author wisely focuses on three principal biographical threads. The signal event is the massive 1988 earthquake that shook the region, killing tens of thousands of Armenians and rendering homeless hundreds of thousands more. The author then segues to the 1915 genocide perpetrated by the Turks on the Armenians—1.5 million killed. One fortunate survivor was the author’s great-grandfather Kaspar, a teen at the time, whose story drives the first part of the narrative. After losing his entire family, Kaspar wandered through a wasteland—suffering, experiencing both startling kindness and cruelty—eventually making his way to the United States in 1920, where he found relatives in the San Joaquin Valley in California. He worked hard and accumulated power, prestige and wealth among other Armenian immigrants. One of his sons, Richard (the author’s grandfather), was a bookish lad who eventually became a UCLA professor, the world’s most respected scholar on Armenian history—the multivolume The Republic of Armenia is his masterwork. Richard’s son Raffi (the author’s father), who also earned academic honors and graduate degrees, settled into a high-paying legal career, then surrendered all and took his family abroad, where he labored for years among his people to try to bring them hope and political stability. In and out of political favor, Raffi enjoyed periods of great popularity, political exile and deep poverty. Raffi’s first son was Garin (the author), whose story weaves in and out of Raffi’s in the final pages. Hovannisian narratives in a swift, novel-like style, slowed only occasionally by the mass of detail and by the geographical and political complexity.
Cultural history and memoir gracefully entwined.