In this debut memoir, an Armenian-American woman details her family background, health issues, and literary education and craft.
Pilibosian was born in 1933 to survivors of the Armenian genocide. Her memoir leads off with “the background our lives were played against, the Armenian lives of my parents before they had immigrated, and our Armenian or American lives here.” She then largely shifts to her saga of growing up in an Armenian-American community in Watertown, Massachusetts. Since she was shy and “lacked ambition to go to college though my marks in school were very good,” Pilibosian went to secretarial school but soon also took humanities courses through Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education, ultimately earning a “bachelor equivalent” degree. Early in adulthood, Pilibosian also experienced depression that required psychotherapy and shock treatments. She married an Armenian man, whom her parents recommended and who worked as a typesetter, and she traveled abroad with him as part of trips to visit his family in Lebanon. She gave birth to two children, got editorial work at an Armenian-American newspaper and the Harvard University Printing Office, and wrote poetry that got published. As a young mother, she experienced cardiac arrest during routine surgery, resulting in four days of lost consciousness. Later, in middle age, while walking in a cemetery, she experienced a mystical lifting of mood. Now in retirement, she and her husband run the small press they founded, and her memoir concludes with a discussion of poetry and other writing. Pilibosian sets out to cover a lot of ground in this expansive memoir. Her overview of Armenian cultural history and descriptions of literary studies hold some interest, though at times they also sit rather awkwardly alongside the underlying drama of her medical and mental health issues, which remain a bit mysterious. Pilibosian clearly loves poetry, and her discussions in this area represent some of the more heartfelt expressions in this book. Indeed, there’s something rather haunting about this somewhat stilted memoir, with Pilibosian acknowledging that only later in life did she learn the value of humor, “because my upbringing had been humorless.”
Ambitious amalgam of ethnic and personal history.