On the eve of war and destruction, an Armenian family tries to maintain its traditional way of life in this historical novel.
As this luminous, doom-tinged tale begins, it’s 1913 in eastern Turkey, and in the little Armenian village of Salor, the headman’s teenage daughter Anno is hiding in an abandoned well, not only to escape from war or soldiers, but to evade prying eyes on this busy day when her sister is getting married and to steal a moment with Daron, the young man she loves. Their Romeo-and-Juliet story occupies much of the novel. Anno’s father objects to the marriage; he wrongly believes that Daron’s father has been sexually immoral. As this knot gets unraveled, the villagers go about their daily, age-old agrarian routines. And some men quietly make dangerous trips to gather arms and ammo, especially after 1915, when the Ottoman government begins rounding up and murdering Armenian intellectuals and political leaders. Armenians remember the massacres of 1894 and wish to be prepared this time. “But,” as one fedayee, or freedom fighter, observes, “how will a tiny band of men such as ourselves, with nothing but the guns we can smuggle, protect our people from the whole of the Turkish army?” They can’t, and this knowledge hangs over the reader like the clouds veiling Salor’s nearby Mount Maratuk. In her debut novel, Boyadjian vividly conjures the specific sensory details of the Armenians’ lost world—food, drink, nature, daily tasks, and handmade objects, such as a rug given for a wedding “with such a joyous blend of deep reds, oranges, and yellows that everyone gasped.” The story is fiction but is based on memories from the author’s four grandparents—all survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Their survival adds a note of hope.
Powerful and sensitive, this tragic novel helps illuminate a historical episode still too little known or acknowledged.