A family history chronicles the life of an Armenian couple who were separated from their homeland.
Both Hovsep Madenjian and Varteni Sarian were made orphans by the Turkish massacre of Armenians during World War I and forced to flee to Beirut, Lebanon. Hovsep met Varteni at the orphanage that housed her, was taken by her beauty, and was eager to marry someone to perpetuate his family line. She was less impressed by him and particularly turned off by his blue eyes and Catholicism—two things she loathed. However, he eventually won her over, apparently by professing his allegiance to a more progressive interpretation of marriage as a partnership. They struggled to have children—Varteni’s first two pregnancies ended in miscarriages—but she finally gave birth to a son, Mardig Madenjian (Ravished Paradise, 2015, etc.), the author of this second volume in a trilogy. The first installment tracked the history of Armenians from the 14th century to the horror of their oppression in the early 20th, and this second volume details the tumultuous aftermath of the Armenian genocide and the new challenges that World War II presented. Hovsep and Varteni had their share of challenges in Beirut—overwhelmed by refugees, the city’s economy suffered and decent employment was scarce, even for someone as impressively educated as Hovsep, who could speak four languages. The author jumps seamlessly between his parents’ struggles to those of all Armenians; for example, he ably discusses the rise of the Tashnag Party in Beirut, the Armenian demand for independence from France, the strain that the Palestinian War put on Lebanon, the intramural disputes between Lebanese Christians and Muslims, and the impact of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Madenjian always expertly catalogs the aching desire of the Armenian diaspora to return home, as well as its diminishing likelihood; he also addresses their demand that their brutal mistreatment by Turkey be properly acknowledged, if not redressed. His command of the historical record is extraordinary, although he tends to bury readers under a mountain of minutiae; also, this is a nakedly partisan history, laced with resentment toward the Turks. Nevertheless, Madenjian still manages an unusual combination of the personal and the historical, rendering global events with the tools of novelistic drama.
A gripping story of a family’s—and a whole people’s—displacement.