June 7, 2014 Saturday
A haunting love story set in a time of genocide
Julia Kelly on a debut Irish novel about the Armenian holocaust
Martine Madden Brandon,
tpbk, (EURO)14.99, 380 pages
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350
The inspiration for Martine Madden''s debut novel, Anyush, came from a
photograph of a woman''s naked, emaciated body by the road beside
those of her two dead children. Taken in secret by young German
soldier Armin Wegner during the massacre of Turkey''s Armenians in the
genocide of 1915, this devastating image stayed with Madden, then
herself the mother of several small children.
Along with the discovery of these photographs it was Madden''s
friendship with two Lebanese Armenians during the years she lived with
her husband in Abu Dhabi that gave her the idea for her novel. The
final impetus came when having returned home to Ireland, Madden sat at
her computer, composing a piece for the local primary school on the
treatment and prevention of head lice (of all things).
Putting words on a virtual page reminded her of how much she had
missed writing and, now her youngest had begun school, she found
herself with the quiet time to get back to it.
Armenians in the genocide of 1915, this devastating image stayed with
Madden, then herself the mother of several small children.
and moving novel is based on the true stories of individuals who lived
through the terrible atrocities of the Armenian genocide.
It is told through a series of diary entries of Dr Charles Stewart,
who runs a local hospital with his wife Hetty, and interspersed with
third-person narratives of Anyush Charcoardian and Captain Jahan
Orfalea, whose dangerous love affair forms its central theme.
The eponymous main character, Anyush, is a young Armenian girl who
lives in the small village of Trebizond with her cantankerous mother
Khandut and her beloved grandmother Gohar.
Her strength of character is evident from the opening chapter where we
see her defiance and bravery. against the Gendarmes.
We follow her story as she witnesses the pure barbarism of war and as
she struggles with the destruction of her village, her mother''s
beatings, the lecherous advances of the village trapper, Husik, and
the immense difficulty of carrying on an affair with a Turkish
Madden''s descriptions of the final journey, the death march of the
Armenians out of Trebizond, their malnutrition, suffering and
inevitable death are as every bit harrowing as the closing scenes of
John Steinbeck''s The Grapes of Wrath.
This is a significant work, and one that sheds important light on a
littletalked-about atrocity. It''s the sort of book that gets under
your skin and stays with you long after you have finished reading it.
Anyush is a haunting and beautifully written first novel.
Julia Kelly is the author of With My Lazy Eye. Her second novel, The
Playground, will be published by Quercus in September
It's the sort of book that gets under your skin and stays with you long after .