Monday, August 23, 2010

173 (2010 #38). The Gendarme

by Mark T. Mustian

I had to show the wrap-around cover of this book, because it's so gorgeous, and it illustrates something about one of the main characters (look at her eyes). This was an advanced reader edition received from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, so I'm not sure if the hardbound edition to be published September 2 will look the same.

This book is set in both 1990 and 1915. The main character and narrator, Turkish-American Emmett Conn (formerly Ahmet Khan), was born in 1898, and in the latter-day setting, is suffering from a brain tumor. This may explain the vivid dreams he has about 1915 and his time as a guard (a gendarme) during the deportation by forced marches of Armenians from Turkey. His eye is caught by a beautiful deportee who herself has unusual eyes, one dark, one light. He pulls her away from another guard about to rape her one night and is going to rape her himself, but instead ends up becoming her protector. Her name is Araxie.

The story moves back and forth from 1915 to 1990, with Emmett dealing with his family and his medical issues in the later year, while periodically flashing back to 1915, remembering things that he apparently has repressed about Araxie and the events of the time. His narration also provides some fill-in on his life between those two periods.

This book sheds light on the Armenian Genocide, a holocaust that to this day is illegal to speak of in Turkey, and something that many people know nothing about. Out of the 2000 deportees Conn/Kahn is escorting, only 65 actually make it to their destination in Aleppo, Syria. The author retraced one deportation route as part of his research. Mustian also does a fine job illuminating what happens in a state mental hospital, where Emmett is confined after he chokes one of his caregivers, thinking he is someone from his past.

Although the initial premise is a little hard to believe (Ahmet was in a supervisory position over other gendarmes at the age of 17?), and the ending is somewhat vague, I would still recommend this book. The story is compelling.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[I won this advance reader edition from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, with the expectation that I would write a review which is also published on their site. The book will be passed on to someone else to read and hopefully review.]

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