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.