GENDARME by Mark T. Mustian

Book Quote:

“Did it really happen?” I ask. Her smile fades, her lips pressed and thin. “Oh, it happened,” she says, her voice low and alive. “Don’t let anyone tell you it didn’t. It was, it remains, genocide.” The word spills from her mouth.

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman (SEP 2, 2010)

With the one hundredth anniversary of the Armenian deportations only a few years away, author Mark Mustian has set himself a daunting task: to follow his character’s footsteps and to serve as his own gendarme, a guide in the wilderness. For the most part, he succeeds admirably.

As Mr. Mustian writes in the epilogue, “Genocide perhaps represents the ugliest of human deeds, the mass killing of often defenseless fellow beings…Saying it didn’t happen is a mere recipe for recurrence.”

The focus is on one gendarme – a 92-year-old Turkish man named Ahmet Kahn on the verge of senility with a non-operable brain tumor – who suddenly begins memories of events that he has previously denied or purposely forgotten. Side effects of his medication produce extraordinarily vivid dreams that transport him back to exquisitely painful times – to World War I, when he was a gendarme, charged with escorting Armenians across the border from Turkey to Syria. Many died from the grueling march and the lack of proper food and shelter and medicine.

Women, in particular, had a tough time of it: they were frequently used as the playthings of the Turkish men who have grown hard and bored and demand women to do their physical bidding before killing them. One woman captures Ahmet’s attention: her name is Araxie and her eyes are her exotica, one nearly turquoise, one greenish-brown. Ahmet falls head over heals for her, sheltering her from the excesses of the trek that become, for all intents and purposes, a true genocide.

Araxie demands of him, “Why not just shoot us all now? What is it about us you hate so?” And he must answer impotently, “I am only a small piece of the puzzle. I have a job to do. I did not ask for it, nor have I questioned its rationale.” As in books from the past – Sadie Jones’ Small Wars, for example, or the more famous A Separate Peace – Ahmet must eventually realize that his answer is non-satisfactory and that his love for Araxie outweighs the senseless slaughter.

The novel is divided into two portions: the present day, where Emmett Conn suffers through mental disorientation, hospital confinement and the coldness of his grown daughter, and the past, where Ahmet Kahn – same person – struggles to survive amidst swollen corpses, monstrous murders, and clannishness, duplicity, and trickery. As the memories swell in intensity, the reader must ask, “How much of his memory is true and how much is a product of extreme guilt? What happened and what didn’t?”

There are no clear answers. But as Mr. Mustian writes, “The point of the story seemed to be that to think is to forget, to filter from the mind the unnecessary, I have told myself this, repeated it to myself. I have called it our gift from God. This headstrong, heedless survival.” At the end of the day, love does survive…and so do the never relenting memories. Mr. Mustian states in his epilogue, “Decades on, even centuries on, our shared history remains vital…”

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 35 readers
PUBLISHER: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (September 2, 2010)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
EXTRAS: Reading Guide
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More novels on the Armenian genocide:

The Last Day of the War by Judith Clair Mitchell

Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières

And another holocaust novel:

Lovely Green Eyes by Arnost Lustig

Small Wars by Sadie Jones


September 2, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, Reading Guide, Turkey, World Lit

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