Memories of the Armenian genocide haunt an ancient Turkish-American in this novel from Florida attorney Mustian.
When Ahmet Khan tried to join the Ottoman army in 1915 to fight the British and Russians, he was ruled too young, so the Turk joined the paramilitary gendarmerie instead. His first assignment was a baptism of fire. Later that year, in the army now, Ahmet suffered a brain injury and amnesia. A POW, he emerged from a long coma in a London hospital where Carol, an American nurse, protected and eventually married him. They moved to New York and had two daughters. Now, at the ripe old age of 92, Ahmet (his name Americanized to Emmett Conn) is living alone in Georgia, his wife’s home state. Carol is dead. Ahmet has a seizure. Tests reveal a brain tumor. Suddenly, memories of that first assignment flood back in a series of dreams. Ahmet’s job was to escort 2,000 Armenian deportees across Turkey. It was a death march, one component of the genocide. By the time they reached Aleppo, Syria, only 65 had survived. Disease had claimed many. Ahmet and his fellow gendarmes were brutal. Rape was their prerogative. Ahmet had taken a woman on the Euphrates riverbank, letting her baby perish. All set to rape another, something stopped him. Araxie was barely into her teens. Ahmet was transfixed by her strange beauty (she had mismatched eyes). A mutual attraction, perhaps? This wisp of a romance offsets the horror of the desert trek, a horror that becomes numbing. It’s Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil, tinged by melodrama. Mustian counterpoints this narrative with the small change of old man Ahmet’s life in Georgia, his daughter Violet overseeing his hospital visits. It’s an awkward mix. Ahmet comes to believe that his 17-year-old self was a monster, and he needs absolution, which leads to a wildly improbable conclusion.
An honorable failure. The cruelty of a callow youth is an inadequate distillation of man’s inhumanity to man.