From Publishers Weekly
This bleak, unsparing debut novel traces one Armenian family's experience during the Armenian genocide of 1915. Yerwant, 53, is a 40-year expatriate living in Venice in the months before WWI. He hopes to reunite with his family on their idyllic farm estate in Turkey—his brother, Sempad (a successful pharmacist); Sempad's wife and children; and the men's little sisters, Azniv and Veron—but WWI ignites, and the ruling Young Turks party closes the border. Yerwant's family in Turkey is rounded up, their fates hastened by a star-crossed love affair between Azniv and a Turkish soldier. The town's men are brutally exterminated, and Yerwant's remaining family suffers concentration camps, forced marches, physical torture and starvation. The kindness of neighboring Turks and Greeks helps them survive as they try to reach Yerwant in Italy. Arslan, a onetime University of Padua professor of Italian literature, depicts the family (based on her own) with broad, epic strokes. The bluntly omniscient narration dampens the characters, but Arslan delivers vivid, powerful testimony of horrific cruelty and immeasurable loss. (Jan. 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Genocide figured in both world wars, but whereas the Holocaust is massively attested, the deliberate extermination of Armenians in 1915 is far less so. Retired professor Arslan's first novel, based upon the experiences and using the names of her family, conjures that terrible time with consummate art. Arslan adopts the tones of a teller of legends as, first, she introduces her grandfather Yerwant, an important physician in his Italian adopted hometown, and her diminutive aunt Henriette, a survivor of 1915, as she knew them when a child. Then, in the book's two principal parts, she depicts the prelude to and outburst of the genocide in the small western Turkish city in which the Arslans lived, and then the trek south to Aleppo in Syria that the city's other Armenian women, girls, and elderly were forced to make on foot by soldiers who harassed them constantly. Not many survived, but Henriette, then a child, and, because he was playing in a sister's old dress when the other males were taken, three-year-old Nubar made it, eventually to Italy and Yerwant. Squirmingly suspenseful throughout, this soul-shaking novel feels like a masterpiece. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved