Debut novelist Ongan tells the story of a marriage between an American Turk and an Australian Armenian in a slow-building novel of romance and rapprochement.
In 1982, Turkish-born San Franciscan Yasmin is devastated by the assassination of her diplomat father at the hands of a group claiming vengeance for the Armenian massacre of 1915. However, it turns out that the Armenian-Turkish cultural divide is not so clear. After Yasmin divorces her cheating husband, she flies to Sydney with her young daughter to reunite with a man she’s loved from afar since they met in 1976—an Armenian named Renan. The passion is mutual, and they’re both determined to make a life together after Yasmin’s grand gesture. Both have been burned by relationships in the past, but they slowly learn to accommodate each other and to re-establish family ties that have been strained by their cross-cultural marriage. Yasmin faces prejudice in her new job at a teachers’ college on top of her trials as a new immigrant. Later, the family’s lives are made even more difficult by a recession that strips the value from their house and throws Renan out of a job. Then Yasmin’s cherished ancestral jewelry is stolen during a burglary. Ongan tells the story in alternating chapters from Yasmin’s and Renan’s separate points of view, but two chapters from the perspectives of Yasmin’s adopted children don’t quite fit within the larger story arc. The author analyzes her characters’ emotions at every turn; indeed, they seem unrelentingly self-aware as well as a bit too conventionally attractive, articulate, and passionate. Nevertheless, readers will be drawn into the story of Yasmin and Renan’s marriage over the decades, which offers some sense of the subtle shifts that affect relationships. The encompassing tale of Yasmin’s reconciliation with her family is also affecting. Overall, it’s an appealing glimpse into cultures that many readers may be unfamiliar with, and the Sydney setting is enjoyable, as well.
Readers who like stories with a strong sense of place, a gradual pace, and conventionally familiar and culturally specific characters will find this novel absorbing.