On the eve of World War I, an Armenian black marketeer conceives a hazardous plan to help his family escape from Turkey to Cyprus.
As this novel begins, Tavid Kaloustian is already playing a risky game by selling opium resin and buying weapons in Constantinople, which he distributes to Armenians. History and his freedom-fighter grandfather have taught him to be wary; Armenians in Turkey have undergone persecution and now, in 1914, are again being targeted, and the ports are closed to them. When Tavid receives a letter from his grandfather, thought to be dead, inviting him and the family to Cyprus, he resolves to get them there—but first he will arm and train his fellow villagers back home. Employing disguise, explosives, weapons, bribery and fearless leadership, Tavid engineers a perilous escape. In his debut novel, Topouzian illuminates a historical episode that deserves wider understanding; the United States still does not officially recognize the 1915–16 forced deportations and massacres, which killed 1.5 million Armenians, as genocide, although many international bodies—including the International Association of Genocide Scholars—have done so. Topouzian sheds a warm light on Armenian culture and traditions, especially food, drink and hospitality, while acknowledging that “[i]n some ways, we are our own worst enemy. United we are not.” Colorful Turkish and Armenian expressions are woven through the book, and Topouzian has some memorable scenes, from battles to tender moments—as when a dying father says to his daughter, “Come! Give your father a bachig [kiss] so I can take it with me and show Christ and make him jealous.” A subplot involving Tavid’s love interest isn’t wellintegrated into the story, the book’s middle section is somewhat formless and phrasing is occasionally clumsy (“Reflexing, Shant looked back”). Topouzian’s footnotes and glossary, while helpful, are inconsistently provided. Tavid’s character is also problematic: while brave and strong, he also seems to relish killing, which tarnishes his heroism.
Loose and rough in places, but a dramatic story of fighting for freedom.
This vibrant, thoughtful book from Katz (Over the Moon, 1997) continues her tribute to her adopted daughter, Lena, born in Guatemala. Lena is “seven. I am the color of cinnamon. Mom says she could eat me up”; she learns during a painting lesson that to get the color brown, she will have to “mix red, yellow, black, and white paints.” They go for a walk to observe the many shades of brown: they see Sonia, who is the color of creamy peanut butter; Isabella, who is chocolate brown; Lucy, both peachy and tan; Jo-Jin, the color of honey; Kyle, “like leaves in fall”; Mr. Pellegrino, the color of pizza crust, golden brown. Lena realizes that every shade is beautiful, then mixes her paints accordingly for portraits of her friends—“The colors of us!” Bold illustrations celebrate diversity with a child’s open-hearted sensibility and a mother’s love. (Picture book. 6-8)
Florian’s seventh collection of verse is also his most uneven; though the flair for clever rhyme that consistently lights up his other books, beginning with Monster Motel (1993), occasionally shows itself—“Hello, my name is Dracula/My clothing is all blackula./I drive a Cadillacula./I am a maniacula”—too many of the entries are routine limericks, putdowns, character portraits, rhymed lists that fall flat on the ear, or quick quips: “It’s hard to be anonymous/When you’re a hippopotamus.” Florian’s language and simple, thick-lined cartoons illustrations are equally ingenuous, and he sticks to tried-and-true subjects, from dinosaurs to school lunch, but the well of inspiration seems dry; revisit his hilarious Bing Bang Boing (1994) instead. (index) (Poetry. 8-10)