* Diane Goshgarian chronicles the enduring faith and catastrophic losses of the Armenian Genocide as seen through the eyes of one woman who refused to surrender
The Arbitrary Sword– By Diane Goshgarian–Vision Press. 497 pp. $15.95
Behind the curtain of World War I–the Ottoman Turks carried out a systematic elimination of the Armenian people beginning in 1915. A world uninterested in becoming involved in wars and conflicts of other nations–turned a blind eye to the plight of the unarmed farmers–merchants–and rural families who were murdered in their homes because of their religious beliefs and ethnic background. At war’s end–1.5 million Armenia’s lay dead.
Author Diane Goshgarian was raised in a world far removed from the atrocities of ethnic cleansing. As she grew–she was slowly introduced to the history surrounding the systematic murder of her people–as well as the shrewdness and keen sense of survival that delivered her grandmother from a certain death. Her grandmother’s story was so compelling–Goshgarian–a nurse practitioner–dedicated every free moment to researching the Genocide and creating a vehicle to tell her grandmother’s–and her people’s–story to the world.
Goshgarian’s dedication and research results in the story of Victoria–the novel’s hero–a character based on Goshgarian’s grandmother. We meet Victoria as a young girl – bright–educated–and looking forward to a future which includes college and a career as a teacher. Victoria’s dreams are dashed and her future plans become capricious as the evidence of violence toward her people spreads to her tiny farming village.
Undaunted–Victoria grows to become a dedicated wife and mother in the face of uncertainty. When she finds herself alone to survive the arrival of the Ottoman Turks to her countryside–Victoria does not surrender. She hatches one ingenious plan after another to ensure the survival of her mother and children–never letting her situation–or her gender prevent her from taking all necessary steps to overcome her adversaries.
Goshgarian’s artfully wrought text and beautiful imagery create an appealing landscape and a well-developed cast of characters.
To this rich tapestry–she adds enough factual accounts of history leading to and documenting the Armenian Genocide to create an understanding of the atrocities the average reader may not grasp. This combination–which may seem unusual for a work of this genre–is handled with grace and precision as the author integrates the story with the history through conversations and political discussions. Additional history is added in parallel passages with the prose so as to create an accurate picture of the situations facing the novel’s characters.
Even with the overwhelmingly dark pall of holocaust carried throughout–the novel creates a beautiful portrait of the Armenian people. One can almost taste the Sunday feasts prepared by hand and with great care. We see the Armenian traditions of unrivalled hospitality and generosity to strangers as well as the central importance of religion and family to the people of this novel. Along with recounting the story of the Genocide with all its historical gravity–this is a compelling portrait of a people–rich with history and traditions that were nearly stripped from humanity.
With Victoria we mourn and rejoice – we fight and we love. And ultimately–we share a quiet victory. Goshgarian creates a story that is at once a joy to read and a tragic wake-up call. Beguiling scenery and prose add much to her story but never detract from her mission – to tell the story of an exceptional woman who faced extraordinary circumstances and triumphed.