World War I separates a betrothed Anatolian couple—leaving one to witness the Armenian genocide and sending the other to a prison camp…in Canada.
Cast as letters and journal entries, the double narrative records the experiences of Zeynep, a villager transplanted to the “mighty city of Harput,” and Ali, who is swept up with other supposed enemy aliens and shipped to a remote camp in central Ontario before he can send for Zeynep. Neither is of Turkish descent: They are Kurds practicing the ancient, indigenous Alevi faith. These distinctions make no difference to Canadian authorities in Ali’s case, but they do give Zeynep some protection as she records a rising tide of atrocities committed against her Armenian (Christian) friends and neighbors. The characters often come off as mouthpieces (“The minorities must stick together or we’re all dead”), and the brief insertion of a young Cree woman into the cast so that she and Ali can compare lifestyles and religious beliefs is an awkward interpolation. Nevertheless, both parts of the author’s tale being based on actual incidents, readers may come away with enhanced awareness of the multiplicity of smaller ethnic groups, both in other countries and their own.
An eye-opening exposé of historical outrages committed in two countries, with intriguing glimpses of a minority group that is not well-known in the Americas. (afterword) (Historical fiction. 11-14)