The fictionalization of a memoir that recounts an Armenian’s attempt to flee Turkey at the dawn of World War I.
Author Lamson (Beyond Guns and Butter, 1991) takes a remembrance written by his great uncle Souren Barkev Tashjian and expands it into a fuller, more novelistic account. This reconstructed version, bookended by Lamson’s own commentary, uses considerable “literary license,” transforming a skeletal account into something rich and cinematic. Unlike the original manuscript, which begins when Souren is 12, Lamson’s reworking commences before Souren was even born, with a prophecy that his life will be besieged with danger. That foretelling turns out to be spot-on; Souren is born into a Turkey in the midst of chaos. On the cusp of World War I, and hellbent on purging itself of its minority elements, Turkey has become an inhospitable place for Christian Armenians. Souren watches as his five siblings flee to the U.S. as he stays behind too long to safely exit and is called to register in the Turkish army or face dire consequences. In what follows, he exhibits almost superhuman resourcefulness and courage. Consistently trapped in impossible situations, he keeps divining creative ways to escape. His mother interprets one of his anxious dreams, anticipating his future daring: “You have experienced a premonition, as Armenians have been living alongside such a monster, now awakening. We will soon experience the full force of its ferocious nature, and for certain you are at great risk. But you, Souren, you are both smart and strategic. I believe this dream foretells that you will find a way to outsmart the monster and survive.” The journey that ensues is remarkable, even more so because it’s true and serves as a powerful reminder of the suffering Armenians went through as a result of Turkey’s modern transformation.
An affecting account of one man’s irrepressible will to survive and succeed.