Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gardens of Grief

As a little girl I often heard the story of how my grandmother escaped the Turks by dressing like a boy in order to leave the old country, Armenia, which was then part of Turkey. Dressing as a boy gave her more of a chance to leave, unharmed. She left because of the Armenian Genocide in which about one and a half million Christian Armenians were slaughtered (out of two million in the Ottoman Empire), and eventually settled in America. In my mind I saw Atta, the name we called my grandmother, wearing baggy boys' clothing, with short or pulled back hair and a wildly beating heart, trying to pass as a boy to escape detection by the Turkish people, because Armenian girls and women were often raped, then killed, during this massacre, which began in 1915 (if not earlier) during World War I.

When I was asked to review an advance copy of Gardens of Grief by Boston Teran, which will be published in April of 2011, I was interested because of my personal connection to the subject of this book. It's a subject I've heard and read about for many years--my grandmother was 1000% Armenian, according to my Italian grandfather--and I was eager to read a contemporary, fictionalized account about the Armenian Genocide.

With spare and striking prose, Boston Teran (more about the author to come) presents a dramatic and believable story, which brings the horrors of the genocide to life. In Gardens of Grief, which is a short, pithy work of historical fiction, the latest novel in The Creed of Violence series, the story revolves around John Lourdes, a Mexican-American agent who is sent to Constantinople by the U.S. to help an Armenian priest, Malek, travel safely across the war-ravaged Ottoman Empire. The priest is revered by his fellow Armenians, but being hunted by the Turkish and German people. (What is it about old Armenian priests? They have an air of mystery about them, and command respect, and this character is no exception.) The story also features a bit of romance between John and a young Turkish-American woman, Alev Temple, who is trying to help the Armenians.

Gardens of Grief is well written and offers the perfect quantity of detail, which brings the story to life: the smoking, the quiet moments, the screaming and noise of shootings and explosions, the feet of the priest (I say no more), the brutality and horrors of the genocide, including death marches. Events are depicted with the right words and the right amount of words--there's nothing extraneous--and the imagination is left intact as a result. I'm not a smoker, but when they lit up their cigarettes I could see and smell the smoke. (That's what the men of that era did; that's how they calmed themselves and carried on.) The descriptions of the large piles of decaying Armenian bodies in the landscape are incredibly awful, incredibly revolting, but also incredibly necessary to the story, which is about the truth.

This epic novel will be made into a movie, which I can immediately visualize, and see as a good way to educate people about the first genocide of modern history. (As I've mentioned before, gorgeous Kim Kardashian may star in the movie. Let's also consider Cher Sarkisian for a role, and even Andre Agassi, now that he's given up tennis.) Although we may wish to deny or forget what happened, we really cannot--to do so is immoral. Adding another layer of tragedy to this event, the Armenian Genocide may have paved the way for the Jewish Holocaust of World War II. We must remember and never allow this type of religious or ethnic persecution to be taken to such an extreme again.

Who is Boston Teran? Is the author a relative of the famous Armenian-American author William Saroyan? Why did this man adopt a pen name? Or maybe the author is not a man, but a woman. Or a group of writers. Many times I asked myself why the identity of this author is kept a secret. (Was it my imagination, or was my blog suddenly getting more hits from Yerevan?) I wondered about the true identity of Boston Teran, author of seven novels. Who is this enigmatic author?

Special thanks to Jocelyn from Kelley & Hall for sending me this book.


  1. Wow, your grandmother sounds like such a brave woman! I cannot imagine having to go through something like that. I'm glad to see the Armenian genocide getting some attention these days. This book sounds excellent!

  2. Thanks for the review & the introduction to a new to me author. This book sounds enthralling and I am adding this to my list of must reads.
    Love & Hugs,

  3. This title is new to me. The story sounds chilling in parts, yet it seems like an important read as well.

  4. Oh my gosh way to go grandma, she sounds like she was an incredible person!

    This story sounds amazing and something that isn't like your everyday "light" read. Thank you so much for sharing, If I don't get to read the book hopefully I'll get to see the film!

    XOXO~ Renee

  5. Great review. Sounds like an interesting book.

  6. Wonderful review of a gripping-sounding book, Suko! What a fearless person your grandmother was--an absorbing story in its own right. Here's to her "1000% Armenian" pride! (no, I'm not)

  7. your grandma has to be a brave woman..the book sounds interesting too.. will watch out for this one.

  8. Thank you, Suko for sharing your story. This adds so much to this review and that period of time. Your Grandma was a very brave women indeed. Wow!
    Great review as always!

  9. Your grandmother sounds like a really strong woman. It is fantastic that you have such a personal connection to this book.

  10. It sounds like your grandmother's story would make an excellant book in its own right. Thanks for not only a wonderful book review but such a telling insight into your life.

  11. This sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing the story of your grandmother.

  12. Thanks for all the wonderful comments on this post. More welcomed.

  13. This sounds like a great book-thanks so much for telling the story of your wonderful grandmother and what she endured-we have a few living family members here in the Philippines who still recall the days of the Japanese occupation but they are rapidly leaving us and soon know one will have a living memory of these days-the young people are not really interested in the stories of people in their 80s!

  14. Wow, your grandmother sounds like she was strong and brave to get through all that. The book sounds intense, and it must have really struck a chord since you have a personal tie to the story.
    Great review.

  15. This books sounds like an amazing read but intense. I'm definitely going to have to read it after reading your review...and thanks for sharing your Grandmother's history. It really enhanced the review!

  16. What an amazing woman your grandmother must be! I can't imagine having to go through something like that, and I think it's so cool that you had such a deep connection with this book. It sounds heartrending and very sad, but also very well written and thought provoking. Fantastic review, Suko!


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