Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Zabelle

Yes hay em.

That means, I am Armenian. My grandparents arrived here from Armenia to escape the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey. I'm also part Italian--but that's not important right now. When I was a child, it felt very peculiar to be Armenian. When kids asked me what nationality I was (and they seemed to do that a lot during my elementary school days), I shrugged or became mute. I dreaded these inquiries, and wouldn't tell them I was Armenian. Even worse, though, was attending Armenian school, which was held on Saturday mornings. The school was within walking distance, and as I trudged back home after class with my sisters, Armenian textbooks in our arms, I was afraid I'd see someone I knew. If friends were outside they'd notice the books, with their strange letters from a different alphabet, and ask questions. I did not want to be seen with these books, this evidence of my otherness. It was sheer torture to me. When we stopped going to Armenian school I was relieved, although I still continued to hide my heritage from others.

As I grew up, I learned to accept my heritage and in fact, became glad that I am part Armenian. Nancy Kricorian is a poet as well as an author of fiction who's also of Armenian descent. A poet first and foremost, her inspiration for her first novel, Zabelle, published in 1998, was to write for a larger audience, and to record some of the many memories and stories she had of her grandmother. Further inspiration came from Sula by Toni Morrison, and My Name is Aram by another Armenian author, William Saroyan.

Nancy Kricorian is a wonderful storyteller, and this book will enchant you from the first page until the very last. Based on the life of her grandmother, Zabelle is the fictional story of Kricorian's grandmother (and many other Armenians) who escaped the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey and made a new life in America. In the story, Zabelle Chahasbanian emigrates to America in an arranged marriage to an Armenian grocer, Toros, in Watertown, MA. Her mother-in-law is mean and domineering, but Zabelle learns to stand her ground. She has three children, Moses, Jack, and Joy, who face cultural conflicts as second-generation Armenians growing up in America. This book paints an intimate portrait of Zabelle and her family, and is both touching and comical, like all good drama.

Even if you are not Armenian but odar you will enjoy this very entertaining book. It's written with passion and captures your attention, completely, regardless of your nationality.

7 comments:

  1. Well, blow me to Padbury. How interesting to know this!

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  2. Long live the Armenians - clever, strong and proud!

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  3. Wow what a nice story. To be honest, I've never even heard of Armenian. Thanks for sharing. I'm gonna keep my eye on books about Armenian.

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  4. Sounds like a wonderful book! We had close family friends growing up that were Armenian, but never heard of any special Armenian schools they might have attended. I will have to ask. It would be interesting sometime to share stories of how and why our families came to America. The flip side of that might be interesting also, stories of those that immigrate from America.

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  5. Susan, what a lovely post this is!

    I have a half-Armenian friend who told me that he wished he had a 'normal' name when he was younger, one that didn't stand out so much. ;-)

    I haven't read Zabelle, but I will definitely try to find it now. I had heard of it, an I think you also mentioned it to me before.

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  6. Myrthe, I was very lucky in the name department (except for my middle name).

    Lori and Myrthe, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

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