An uneven debut evokes the plight of the Armenians under Turkish rule before 1914, describing the love between an Armenian-American and a young Jewish woman from St. Louis.
Mitchell has meticulously researched her settings—immigrant life in Rhode Island; the US as it goes to war in 1917; the war itself; the subsequent Peace Conference in Paris; as well as the history of the Christian Armenians and their persecution by the Islamic Ottoman Empire. But period details aren’t enough to make the story soar. On her 18th birthday, in the St. Louis library, Yael Weiss meets Dub Hagopian, a US soldier about to be sent to France. Yael, smitten, next joins the YMCA, giving a false name, age, and faith, and with fellow volunteers lands in France as the war ends, but not the need for help. As the Paris Peace Conference gets under way, she again runs into Dub. Only a baby when his family fled the Turkish pogroms, Dub, very bright, is a respected translator for the Conference. Reluctantly, however, pressured by Raffi, a fellow Armenian and neighbor, he also belongs to a band of Armenian freedom fighters bent on assassinating culpable Turkish leaders. Torn between his loyalties—he has also promised, with certain conditions, to marry Raffi’s neurotic sister Ramela—Dub falls deeply in love with Yael, who is soon spying for him and helping him track down a certain Kerim Bey. A man of his word, Dub confronts Bey, whom Raffi, a self-righteous fanatic, wants dead. Unlike the poor Armenians, who will be betrayed at the Peace Conference by the Allies, Dub and Yael, who finally comes clean about her age, her name, and her Judaism, may have a shot at a better life.