Friday, September 10, 2010

The Gendarme - Mark T. Mustian


In the past, I have mentioned the skills of persuasion possessed by Lydia Hirt of Amy Einhorn/Putnam Books. Despite my steadfast resolution to read what I have and stop accepting review copies, she manages to find books that I can't pass up, and The Gendarme was one of them. The book was published under the Amy Einhorn imprint, and rarely do these people miss their mark. (OK, so I also loved the cover.) God love her, she told me to read it and review it whenever I had time, but of course I think she probably knew I wouldn't be able to let this one sit on my nightstand for long.

Emmett Conn is a 92-year-old widower who has just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Throughout his adult life, he has suffered from memory loss as a result of injuries sustained in WWI. It is only since the onset of the tumor does he experience flashbacks to a time before, when he served as a Turkish Gendarme, escorting the Armenians on their death march into Syria. His real name was Ahmet Khan.

Amidst the atrocities of theft, murder, and rape of the Armenians under his care, Ahmet meets a beautiful young Armenian girl named Araxie, and immediately becomes obsessed with her. Instead of raping her, he becomes protective of her, and they forge a unique bond and friendship. They speak of escaping to America, of their future careers, of children.

These recollections dredge up more emotions that Emmett can handle. How could he have possibly taken part in such horrible acts? Are these his memories, or someone else's? What happened to Araxie? Is she still alive? As he progresses back through his memories, remembering his vitality and youth, he is also burdened with a worn out body, his strained relationships with his daughters, and his wish to be closer to his grandchild.

I was hoping that as I summarized the plot of the novel, I would come to a definitive conclusion on my feelings. Did I love this book? I don't know, so I am going to bat around my thoughts out loud.

The book presented a graphic and sickening fate of the Armenians at the turn of the century, a real piece of history that I knew very little about. This is some brutality that easily matches the concentration camps in WWII. Mustian doesn't mince words, and at times, my stomach turned and I had to put the book down and think about butterflies and kittens.

The connection between Ahmet and Araxie transcended the typical relationship, almost to a spiritual level. Ahmet's attitude was almost fatherly, and physically as chaste, but couldn't stand not being near her. The moment that Ahmet realizes that the fates, the circumstances, the politics, whatever, did not intend on the two of them to be together, I felt my heart break.

Mustian also tackles the hardship of aging: wanting to just die and get it over with, of feeling like a burden to everyone, of being confused about what is happening to the body and mind, of what it feels like to be left in a care facility by your loved ones.

But something was missing. While the events transpiring around Ahmet/Emmett were emotional, there was very little emotion in the prose. I kept thinking of the word "stoic", and questioning whether this was purposeful. Ahmet/Emmett WAS a stoic man, so perhaps this was reflective of his personality. He still came across to me as two-dimensional.

Nevertheless, this is one book I shan't be forgetting soon, and is well worth your reading time.

4 out of 5 stars


16 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

It sounds like an interesting premise, but I am getting a bit bored of WWI books - they have to be very special to give a new persepective. Perhaps you're sufferng from the same sort of repitition boredom?

Amy said...

I think you are right that the writing was kind of stoic, but in a way that really reflected, to me, Emmet / Ahmet. I thought it worked really well. I really loved this book.

And Jackie, I haven't read many WWI books at all so don't listen to me (heh) but I really liked the play on memories and the fact that it focused on the Armenian genocide rather than WWI itself. So might be different than others? I'm not sure!

Trisha said...

Okay, now you and Amy both have told me to read this one.... I had it sitting on the TBR shelves, but I really didn't have much interest in reading it. I'm moving it a bit forward in the pile now -I mean that's two positive (mostly) reviews from bloggers I trust!

Zibilee said...

I have been reading a lot of reviews on this book, and am hoping to read it soon. It would be a new area of history for me, and it sounds like it also a really emotion laden read. It would be interesting to discuss this one with you after I have read it, so I will have to make some time to do that! Great review, Sandy!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm glad to see the story of Armenian atrocities getting some publicity. And it sounds like the book is pretty good, even if not a 5!

Anna said...

I know nothing about these events, so I'm intrigued right off the bat. Then there's the gorgeous cover. I have so many books to read already, but I'll keep this one in mind.

bermudaonion said...

I was hoping for a resounding yes to the question of whether you loved the book or not. I'll be reading this soon since it's my book club's October pick.

ds said...

Interesting. What happened to the Armenians doesn't get much play, so it is good to know there is literature out there, even if some of it is two-dimensional.

Jenners said...

I don't know what to think ... I'm not sure I want to read it or not. I'm not big on stoic.

Alice Teh said...

I have quite a few reviews on this one and I like what I've read so far. You have just convinced me yet again to read this. I would like to get my hands on this one if I could find it.

Kathleen said...

I've been reading a lot about this one and have it on my list. Sounds like you got quite a bit out of your reading experience.

Literary Feline said...

I've been curious about this book but didn't know much about it. It's such a sad part of history, and one I am not overly familiar with. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Sandy. I'll definitely consider this one further!

Melody said...

The premise sounds interesting to me! And I so love the cover! I'll have to check this out after reading a few rave reviews of this book!

Julie P. said...

My book club is reading this one for October. I can't wait!!!

Esme said...

I need to get this book given I am married to an Armenian. Thank you.

Melissa M said...

I have this one too, but it seemed heavy and I haven't been in the mood for that lately. From your review I think I'll put it off a little while longer.