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Book: From memories to lyrical fiction John D Balian

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#1 Yervant1


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Posted 24 December 2012 - 09:46 AM

Daily News & Analysis, India
Dec 23 2012

>From memories to lyrical fiction

Published: Sunday, Dec 23, 2012, 10:31 IST
By Malavika Velayanikal

Not many writers muster enough courage to admit that their novel is
more an autobiography than fiction. John D Balian, though, goes a step
further. His debut novel, Gray Wolves and White Doves, a gripping
coming-of-age tale of an Armenian boy who faces relentless persecution
in Turkey and Jerusalem, is a deeply personal account. Writing it, he
says, was liberating in many ways. `For decades, I planned or thought
or wished to write this book. And eventually, when I became determined
to write it, I sat down and it all poured out like a flood.'

Balian was born in a remote Assyrian village in Turkey. His
grandparents were victims of the Armenian genocide, and his parents
and relatives lived in constant fear of a Turkish crackdown.

Displaced from the village in childhood after his mother was killed in
front his eyes, nearly every day was a struggle for survival for him
until he escaped to the United States of America when 17 years old.
His initial challenge was to learn English, a language he barely knew.
He was at an age when he should've been in the final grades of high
school. He had to learn the new language, get an education and do well
enough to go to a good university. He did all that, studied at
Columbia University to became a doctor and a corporate executive
before he wrote his novel-cum-memoirs.

Gray Wolves and White Doves takes you through his traumatic and
dangerous growing up years as an Armenian Christian in Turkey and
Jerusalem - as Balian remembers it.
Though written from recall, the events in book are very detailed. How?
As I was growing up, I did not keep a diary or notes. Whatever I wrote
is all from my memories. To confirm that those memories were accurate,
I spoke to my older siblings, relatives and friends who experienced
the events I wrote about. Everything in the book is actual and
factual. All the events have happened. And most of them, to me
personally, the rest to family members, friends and acquaintances.

How long did it take to write it?
It took me eight-and-a-half years to complete the book. That was
because I also have other commitments. I am a husband, father, doctor
and also a corporate executive.

What was the most difficult part about writing? And what was the easiest?
The easy part was putting down the events, the stories. That happened
within a few months. The difficult part was making sure that this was
worthy of literature. For a very long time I edited and rewrote the
book, over and over again. I went through dozens of drafts and
versions to make sure that in a literary sense, it is something that I
can be very proud of. That took most of the time, and it was the
challenge. At times, I would struggle on a single word for hours, and
I would put something down. Then I would come back to it a week later
and change it again. And struggle further to write the right word that
would portray the event or scene in a way that the reader would feel
the same as I did while experiencing it.

Are there any fictional elements in the book?
I have omitted certain events and characters, and in some situations I
have created a character to make the story flow. That's where the
fictional components of the book lay. I also had to reduce the evil in
some of the real-life characters.

When did you discover that you can write?
I always was a good writer. In high school, teachers used to encourage
me to become a writer. Instead I took the scientific route and became
a physician. But I continued to write for scientific journals and
magazines. And then this book came. Like my father, I am a
storyteller, I guess.

Was it easy to find a publisher?
Everybody liked the story but in the US it is extremely difficult to
get published if you are not a well-known entity and if you go through
the traditional route. The easiest and most compelling route which
more and more writers take these days is to go through the way I
went - through Amazon's publishing arm. They provide you with all the
services of publishing yet you retain all the rights to the book.

Armenian persecution is a dangerous subject. Were you afraid of a
backlash when the book came out?
I wasn't scared of criticism, but I was afraid of backlash of some
sorts. But it hasn't happened. I had a few Turks who read the book.
They had mixed emotions, but really liked the even-handed approach
where I didn't say all the Turks are bad or all Armenians are good. It
shows good and bad in all people. The historical aspects bothered
them, but they acknowledge it happened. I haven't heard from any
Turkish authorities.

Did you ever go back to Turkey and Jerusalem?
I left both Turkey and Jerusalem in 1976, and have never been back. I
intend to visit Jerusalem, I want to go back and see the school and
the seminary I grew up in. But Turkey, no. Unless there will be some
sort of guarantees that I will be left alone.

Are Armenians still being persecuted in your village?
Things have improved from the perspective of persecution. However, it
still exists. I still have relatives there, aunts and cousins. They
can't acknowledge their heritage and nationality. Also the village is
right on the Syrian border, so there is turmoil in the region. And
there is the Kurdish independence movement that is ongoing.

Will there be a sequel to the book?
Yes. Not right now, though. The book is being translated into Chinese
and Armenian. My next goal actually is to turn it into a movie. Like
Life of Pi, a book I love.


#2 Yervant1


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Posted 24 December 2012 - 09:59 AM

Clamouring for truth


John Balian

books and literature

Gray Wolves And White Doves, a dark and edgy coming of age story by
first-time novelist John Balian, was launched in the city earlier this
Historical memories, genocide, fundamentalism - it all comes together
in Gray Wolves And White Doves a novel by John Balian.

The novel documents a personal account, the journey of a young boy
into adulthood in a tumultuous setting and how he overcomes the odds.
The inspiring story is uplifting despite the horrific things the
protagonist witnesses as a 16-year-old.

The book takes place in the 60s and 70s, almost 50 years after the
Armenian genocide and the boy in the story is exposed to this history
through his uncle. It is the memories of this history that Balian has
woven into his narrative; the truth of a genocide that is continually
denied and till date remains unresolved.

John Balian was accompanied by a panel - Jahnvi Barua, Harish Bijoor
and C.V. Ranganathan, who took turns to ask him questions and probe
further to uncover a first hand account. When Bijoor asked him about
the resilience that Balian's protagonist displays, the author said,
`The resilience is not unique to this one individual; besides, I
cannot say I was unscathed. Writing this book was a moment of

`The beauty of the human spirit comes through in the book. And the
beauty of his writing, it is so lyrical you can almost visualise the
sun-kissed beach and the mountains hemming it in,' Jahnvi began
poetically and after a dramatic pause she asked, `What really happened
in 1915?'

`It was a pre-planned, well organised and well executed plan of
extermination. Young Turks were sent word to deport all Armenians in
the region. They arrested all the intelligentsia, church leaders,
writers, sent them away to the interiors and killed them. About
500,000 Armenians survived and lived as refugees across the world,'
answered Balian. He continued to talk about the Bedouins in the desert
who were the true heroes of the time, `The Bedouins of Iraq, Syria and
Lebanon - it was their kindness. They gave the Armenians a home and
invited them into their large communities.'

The book narrates a history that is largely unknown but Balian is not
worried about the reception of his book in Turkey. `Things are
changing in Turkey,' assures Balian, `Orhan Pamuk was banned because
he used the phrase `Armenian genocide' but intellectuals and
historians are coming forward and urging people to speak; people are
clamouring for the truth. This is probably the most important issue
for the Armenian diaspora and has been since 1975. Before, the
Armenian population was still in a state of shock and shame. This was
not a history they wanted to discuss or pass on to the next

The new generation was urged to forget their language and customs and
it was like that for over 50 years till the younger generation
revolted and wanted to recognise and be proud of their heritage. `The
past is never the past, it stays with us. How do you live where it
doesn't consume you; live with it in your life and still look to the
future? You should never forget, but forgive the past - but you cannot
forgive unless the Turkish government seeks forgiveness and until then
the bitterness remains and festers.'

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