Skylark Farm Hardcover – Jan 23 2007
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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 Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If ever another book comes out written by Antonia Arslan, I will buy it immediately.
Professor Arslan must have faced many of the same issues that I have in dealing with her families tortured past. Her book truly reflects the depth of her emotions in committing her families' story to paper.
I could not put her book down although I was tempted to do so many times particularly during the forced march to Aleppo, Syria. Although I knew the outcome, I still wanted to live the experience despite that fact that none of it was new to me. My families' story parallels Professor Arslans as would undoubtedly be true of many other Armenian families that were subject to this tragic period in history.
This is a book for everyone. One does not have to be Armenian to become a member of the family as they lived and loved in their city in Turkey.
Skylark Farm is a story of love, passion, sacrifice, hope and the will to go on despite the evil that was perpetrated.
Antonia Arslan's debut novel, Skylark Farm, is the personal recounting, in novel form, of her ancestors who were killed and those who managed to survive the WWI Armenian Genocide.
Sempad Arslan looks forward to his older brother's return. Yerwant traveled to Italy as a teenager to study-stayed forty years. Sempad's preparations are elaborate and thorough, including updating Skylark Farm, the family's country home. Yerwant is also preparing to travel in a new car filled with gifts.
Before the family reunion can take place, WWI begins. Italy entered the war and the borders were closed, thus preventing Yerwant's travel. Yerwant's concern about his family's safety continues to rise. He is unaware that there is a plan underway to destroy Turkey's Armenian minority population.
Meanwhile all the Armenian men are rounded up and murdered. The city's women and girls are forced into prison camps where they starve, have little water, are humiliated and suffer horrible cruelties. A law makes the punishment death for anyone who helps the Armenians.
The novel follows the family's desperate attempts to live and the people who help them survive. Early on you know who will survive, yet it doesn't make you put down the book as you are compelled to continue reading the `real' life drama.
You can't quite believe man's inhumanity. Would we risk our lives to save people who have been determined, by `someone,' to have no value? We also must confront the evil of people and the consequences of evil running rampant.
Arslan's account of her family's history will leave you breathless and choking back more than a few tears. When I become too complacent about the `untouchable' life I live, it would be good to reread it.
Armchair Interviews says: Highly recommended. Skylark Farm is a keeper.
Disaster finally strikes, and when it does, it is sudden, brutal, and total. The descriptions are difficult to read, being graphic and violent. Hope, however, is present in the form of a gypsy "wailer" (a woman hired to mourn at funerals), a beggar, and a Greek priest. These three friends of the family risk their lives to help, and some of the family members are saved.
Although I hesitate to offer criticism of such a personal novel, it would have been very helpful to me as a reader if there had been a family tree at the beginning of the book. I spent a considerable amount of time flipping back and forth trying to determine the relationships between characters, and between the characters and the family members of the author, some of whom appear in the book. In addition, I found the flashforwards of the fates of the characters somewhat distracting from the plot. But these are minor points.
A tale of genocide, betrayal, redemption, family solidarity, and survival, Skylark Farm is an important addition to the literature of the Armenian massacre. It is not easy reading but it adds to our understanding, not only of this tragedy, but of all acts of genocide. "At bottom--and he's also ashamed of this, as it if were a military inefficiency--the colonel knows the advantages of tolerance, understands that the darkest day for a country is the one when, in order to feel united, it feels the need to eliminate a defenseless segment of its population." The darkest day indeed.