In this ambitious work of narrative history, a son of survivors of a genocide revisits the past that they could not.
Madenjian (St. Rita of Cascia: Saint of the Impossible, 2011), who grew up in the United States and worked as an editor at an Armenian-English newspaper, writes that he was never able to get his parents to candidly discuss the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Following their deaths, he began writing about his heritage himself. This book, the first in a planned trilogy, begins in the fourteenth century, when the last Latin king of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia surrenders to Muslim Mameluk forces. In the unrest that follows, some Christians acquiesce to Muslim rule and others resist. A group of faithful Christian families, led by an aging soldier named Bados, settle a new village in Chongaria, later called Chepni, located in present-day central Turkey. Madenjian descends from these founding families, and by reimagining his ancestors’ lives, he puts indelible characters into the often faceless tales of atrocities committed against the Armenian people throughout centuries of Ottoman rule. The culmination of the conflict came during World War I, when the Ottoman Empire began to dissolve and authorities sought to exterminate the remaining Armenian people. Madenjian describes this genocide largely through the perspectives of his own parents, then just children, who lived through the Chepni massacre. There are moments in this book when the author’s raw emotion leads to unfair generalizations, as when he writes in the introduction that if some Turks “find the opportunity, they will repeat the mass murders, because killing is part of the Turkish instinct and nature.” His taste for detail also sometimes bogs down the narrative, as when he overexplains the causes of World War I. However, his meticulousness pays off beautifully when he reconstructs his relatives’ and others’ experiences.
An exhaustively researched, if sometimes excessively detailed, book about a tragic event in modern history.