Chris Bohjalian is one of my must-read authors. The first book I read of his was Midwives and I enjoyed it so much, I read all of his others in probably two weeks (Before You Know Kindness was his then-most recent release). He’s one of the few authors whose books I will buy (or, in this case, request for review) without even knowing what they’re about. It doesn’t really matter; I know that I will love his books. That ended up working out really well in this case. I tend to avoid war stories, and that’s what this is. And while this is a hard book to read, it’s a necessary one.
This novel is set in present-day New York but mostly in 1915 Syria. Laura (present-day) is writing a novel about her grandparents’ lives but also, on a larger scale, about the Armenian genocide. During that time, the Turks slaughtered a million and a half Armenians (this is actually true and, for some reason, not something I learned in school). Laura’s grandmother Elizabeth traveled from America with her father to help the Armenian refugees; her (Laura’s grandfather Armen was one of those refugees. They met and fell in love. I’m simplifying and there is obviously so much more to the story than what I’m telling you, but you get the point.
This is not an easy book to read—it’s actually horrifying, and that’s not a word I use lightly. There are happy moments, but there are also moments that took my breath away and moments that made me cry. And those outnumbered the happy moments, by far. Reading this was a painful experience, on par with reading about the Holocaust or any other atrocity that we commit against each other. This is not a book for everyone, but personally, I feel that the least I can do is bear witness to events like this, even if it’s almost a hundred years ago, and even if it’s “just” words on a page.
This is an amazing book, probably the best I will read all year. Proceed with caution but, if you can, proceed.