The BUZZ: Fifteenth novel by bestselling author of Midwives and Skeletons at the Feast.
The GIST: Laura Petrosian is a novelist living in suburban New York who has has never given much thought to her Armenian heritage. She becomes drawn into her grandparents’ mysterious history when a friend sees a photograph of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit of The Apostates in Boston. Laura becomes obsessed with finding out more about the photo, and ends up writing a book about its secrets. Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks in 1915, and most people don’t learn about it in studies of WWI in school. I didn’t. This novel tells the neglected story. Laura’s grandparents’ meeting in Aleppo during the atrocities is described among unimaginable horrors. The flashback element of the novel is interspersed with Laura’s present-day quest to learn more about her ancestors’ experiences during the war. Although the details are gruesome, Armen and Elizabeth’s love story and other accounts of heroism and resilience provide a reprieve from the inhumanity of war – for them, and for the reader.
The WRITING: Powerful and tender. Every character is memorable and intriguing. Bohjalian has figured out how to tell a horrifying story without turning away the reader. It’s no small feat, as I didn’t want to read details of the genocide, especially in the hands of a writer so skilled in descriptive scene. Just as I became overwhelmed by the images, he would fill in the other side of the human equation with moving testimony of love and integrity. Still, it’s not an easy read, but one based on a history that deserves review and attention.
BUY OR BORROW: Borrow, but don’t avoid this one because of its challenging content. Its love story is a beautiful testament to survival and remembrance.
“There is a line connecting the Armenians and the Jews and the Cambodians and the Bosnians and the Rwandans. There are obviously more, but really, how much genocide can one sentence handle?”