GENDARME by Mark T. Mustian
â€śDid it really happen?â€ť I ask. Her smile fades, her lips pressed and thin. â€śOh, it happened,â€ť she says, her voice low and alive. â€śDonâ€™t let anyone tell you it didnâ€™t. It was, it remains, genocide.â€ť The word spills from her mouth.
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 characterâ€™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, â€śGenocide perhaps represents the ugliest of human deeds, the mass killing of often defenseless fellow beingsâ€¦Saying it didnâ€™t happen is a mere recipe for recurrence.â€ť
The focus is on one gendarme â€“ a 92-year-old Turkish man named Ahmet Kahn on the verge of senility with a non-operable brain tumor â€“ 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 â€“ 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 Ahmetâ€™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, â€śWhy not just shoot us all now? What is it about us you hate so?â€ť And he must answer impotently, â€śI 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.â€ť As in books from the past â€“ Sadie Jonesâ€™ Small Wars, for example, or the more famous A Separate Peace â€“ 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 â€“ same person â€“ struggles to survive amidst swollen corpses, monstrous murders, and clannishness, duplicity, and trickery. As the memories swell in intensity, the reader must ask, â€śHow much of his memory is true and how much is a product of extreme guilt? What happened and what didnâ€™t?â€ť
There are no clear answers. But as Mr. Mustian writes, â€śThe 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.â€ť At the end of the day, love does surviveâ€¦and so do the never relenting memories. Mr. Mustian states in his epilogue, â€śDecades on, even centuries on, our shared history remains vitalâ€¦â€ť
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 35 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (September 2, 2010)|
|REVIEWER:||Jill I. Shtulman|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Mark T. Mustian|
|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 BerniĂ¨res
And another holocaust novel:
Lovely Green Eyes by Arnost Lustig
Small Wars by Sadie Jones
- Gendarme (September 2010)