A new novel of mine, The Ash Tree, has been published by West of West Books in conjunction with the April 24, 2015 centenary of the Armenian genocide; it recounts the lives of an Armenian-American family and the sweep of their history in the twentieth century - particularly from the points of view of two women in the family as it builds a new life in California.
There are three other novels of mine - one is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962, which is as yet unpublished; another is Hungry Generations, about a young composer's friendship in L.A. with the family of a virtuoso pianist, published on demand by iUniverse; and Acts of Terror and Contrition - a nuclear fable - is my political novella (with eight stories) from Amazon's Createspace, about Israel and its reactions to the first Iraq War in 1990 (with the fear then that Saddam Hussein's missile bombardment might contain a nuclear weapon).
From a review of "Acts" on Amazon.com:
"At times the reader races ahead to find out the fate of the cast of characters and the fate of nations. At others the reader is stopped mid-page to consider the paradoxes of the nuclear world and the world of realpolitik. This is an important, timely book that deserves a wide audience."
For a fuller description of them, look for the relevant blog posts below or click on one of the Amazon.com links. KINDLE editions of these novels are also available.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

April 24, 1915, Armenian genocide in Turkey -singer in sole surviving edifice


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"The Ash Tree" - a novel about the aftermath in America of the Armenian Genocide

The Ash Tree by Daniel Melnick is being published around the centennial of the April 24th beginning of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, with its new release date of May 15, 2015. Its cover painting with its frayed and white-washed frame is by the author’s wife, Jeanette Arax Melnick, and the novel is based partly on the lives of the Arax family. Combining history and fictionalized memoir, The Ash Tree is an important, beautifully written novel. Available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, and independent bookstores – or order from connect@westofwestcenter. For further information, see www.theashtree.net.    Price: $25. ISBN: 9780981854762.

The novel tells a timeless story of the romance between an immigrant and a young American woman. They meet and marry and raise their family in the sunbaked Central Valley of California. Armen Ararat is a poet, a farmer, and then a businessman, who escaped from the nightmarish history of Armenians in Turkey early in the twentieth century. From 1930 to the 1970s, Armen and Artemis, his Armenian-American wife born in Connecticut, raise two sons and a daughter. The Ararats grow into vivid, quintessentially American characters in this novel of survival, new life, and heartbreak.

Artemis and her daughter, Juliet, occupy the center of this world otherwise dominated by men. The dynamic, driven mother achieves a force and authority that challenge the limitations of her time and place. The daughter strives to develop into a forceful young woman in her own right, perceptive, artistic, and more at ease within herself than her mother.

Tigran is the older son – cautious, intense, solid – and Garo is the mercurial and risk-taking younger brother, forcing Tigran to try to protect him more than once against his will. Garo is passionate and charismatic. Large in spirit, he fearlessly embraces life, and he struggles against – yet is baffled by – the recoil of cruelty and evil he encounters. The family discovers that America is not the mythologized land of opportunity but is beset by the evils of poverty, war, racism, censorship, drugs, and corruption. The Ararats’ turbulent story reveals universal truths about the struggles of countless families, immigrant and native alike.

All five members of the Ararat family find their voices here and share telling this epic story of their striving to rise from the ashes of the past. The story moves back and forth among them: the immigrant husband and father, the powerful wife, their daughter, and finally the two sons. As the family rebounds in the aftermath of the genocide of Armenians in 1915, they realize themselves in the fertile yet hostile landscape of Central California, only for tragedy to find the Ararats again.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 22, 2014: Andranik in the deleted prologue of my new novel "The Ash Tree"

May 22, 2014: Here is the cancelled prologue to my new novel about the Armenian-American family of Armen Ararat and his wife, Artemis – from the time of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 to 1972. The novel’s title is “The Ash Tree,” and it will be published April 24, 2015, on the hundredth anniversary of the begining of the Armenian Genocide; a description of the novel is to be found at www.theashtree.net .

Andranik in America – August, 1924
            I have been pummeled, shot at, imprisoned, and sometimes now I can hardly breathe. I am fifty-nine, and my time is coming to an end, sooner rather than later. There remain, of course, moments of life for me. After the Great War, I met an intelligent woman by the name of Nevart, and two years ago I married her – in Paris, lyrical bittersweet Paris, almost forty years to the day after my first wife died in Anatolia.
Paris is bittersweet because it is the site of our defeat five years ago – in 1919, when Wilson’s so-called Peace Conference gave us no promise of a homeland and no justice for the Ottoman massacre of our people. Naturally, we were not alone in being betrayed at Versailles. Yet we Armenians still idealize Paris, as much as do the Slavs. And we love the French language, the language of Racine and Rousseau, of Baudelaire and Verlaine – beloved by our great poets Siamanto and Varoujan, whose works are filled with echoes of them. In 1915, both men were murdered by the Turks.
So a breath of time ago I was married in bitter beautiful Paris. Soon we moved to California to aid my asthma, and I walk now beneath Fresno’s summer sun. Its fury beats down on me, through to the bone. I call it my constitutional, trudging about my backyard. A grey-green eucalyptus towers over one side of the yard, and a Fresno ash tree with its blood-red blossoms borders the other. Beyond the yard, I look out at parched, wind-blown fields, which stretch to the Sierras. The earth here is as hard as iron and dry as the moon. But when worked by spade and shovel, it can be planted with vines, which once irrigated yield tasty grapes. Many Armenian farmers make the attempt, pitting their knowledge and scant cash against the heat. My Fresno yard, though, remains hardpan. What energy I have, I devote to my wife and to my writing. In the shade by the side of our house we do, however, grow our purple basil, parsley, and mint, bushy and aromatic in terracotta pots. We can’t help it.
            The mornings I spend at my desk writing these words or sometimes in my basement workshop, where I build chairs and tables, for as a boy I was an apprentice to my father, a carpenter. I remember admiring the wonderful form of his tables, the perfect lines of their slender legs, the elegance of his carving, and also the clarity of his instructions. From the age of twelve to eighteen I worked toward whatever mastery I could achieve in his workshop. When I was seventeen, I met a short, tender village girl, and I courted her with some dedication. We married in April of 1882. Soon our son grew within my wife. When the time arrived in all its wonder, she died giving birth. Two days later the infant also died.
            Yes, a carpenter. My chairs are like my father’s, lithe and simple. A few weeks after my little loved ones died, my father walked into our kitchen, his head bloodied and his eyes blackened. A Turk had taken offense for no reason, in the way racists do. For a long week, I silently watched and memorized the perpetrator’s habits, his haunts, his walks. One evening, I followed him through a barren field and called out that I was the son of Ozanian. I beat the Turk to death. Soon after, I walked away from our village.
Walking has been my destined mode of transportation. Even in childhood, we would walk the hours west from our Sivas village to Ozan, our ancestral home. When at eighteen I walked away from our village, for weeks I walked west hundreds of miles, finally reaching Constantinople. It was in 1883, and I joined the Armenian national liberation movement. After a decade, I found myself in Kars, where I was imprisoned for being a proud man and an Armenian. I am among those who have witnessed atrocious murder, and I have also been one who is willing to return blow for blow. When the Turkish prison guard assigned me clean-up, I swept with the stiff-bristled broom and suddenly turned to thrust it in his face. Blinded, he was unable to fend off my blows or prevent my escape. I walked two hundred miles from Kars to Sassun in order to join the Armenian General Serob; neither of us felt we had any choice but to defend the Armenians of Anatolia from Sultan Abdul Hamid’s slaughter of our people. And when Turks assassinated Serob in 1899, I searched the region with my men and tracked down the assassin, General Khalil, whose throat I slit.
Two years later, on foot, we snuck into the Armenian Holy Apostolic Monastery in the Turkish-occupied city of Mush. We were only a few score of men, but we held the Monastery for nineteen days, and we involved the European Consuls in our negotiations. That was our mission: to broadcast to the Europeans the tragic fate of the Armenians under Ottoman rule. On the last night, we dressed in captured Turkish uniforms and escaped through a secret door. I was first out. I was dressed in an officer’s uniform and walked calmly through the Turks’ lines, addressing soldiers in formal Turkish. Little did they know I was not one of their officers but their enemy Andranik Ozanian.
 When I fought in the Balkan War in 1912, the Bulgarian general said that “General Andranik was brave to the point of madness.” I dispute that, for all I did was to walk shoulder to shoulder with my men. Even as the men around me were struck down by on-coming fire, I would charge ahead; my aim was always to teach them to become aware of the origins of fire, its force and direction, to dodge it, and if possible to turn fire on itself. I had already lost everything more than once; I had seen what death brought down on the innocent, even an infant a few days old. Always I tried to relieve my men of fear. I would go among them, speak quietly, and ask after their families, their feelings and fears. In my austere way, I tried to be kind and loyal. “What did you eat this morning?” I asked, and “What did you dream last night?”
            This California valley reminds me of Anatolia. The starkly out-jutting Sierra Mountains, the stretches of tinder-dry brown earth, the interruptions of irrigated green, and the small towns like villages – it brings back our homeland. Anatolia, with its ancient Armenian farms and villages, is a similar patchwork of irrigated vines and blank dirt, of outcropping hills and hardened plains with a looming horizon of mountains. I would tramp across those plains with my men, whether in an army of thousands or a score of partisans, all of them ready to fight with courage and intelligence to defend our people. Never will I forget the years of fighting side by side with them. Life would be worthless to me if I had not pit myself in that way against fate and death.
Struggling to save Armenian lives in 1915, I led my army against the Turks, who were driving us from our lands and murdered 1.5 million of us. Using all our cunning and desperation, we freed Van from the Turkish siege in 1915, and in 1916 we fought against them in Bitlis. In 1918, I was made governor of all the Armenian cities of west of the Arax River, and we helped hundreds of thousands of Armenians to escape to the east as again the Turks attacked and sought to obliterate us. In those years, the political leaders of Armenia on both the right and left capitulated to the Young Turks and then to the Ataturk regime. Finally, they agreed to the worthless Batum Treaty, which created a shrunken Armenian nation. My army and I held out to the southeast in Zangezur until the end of 1918, but then bitter winter descended.
I first came to the United States in 1919. Wilson’s government would not see me or any other official from Armenia. Even now, if only America helped, the little we need is not too much to ask, and we could then raise a sufficient army to defend our now tiny nation. Across America, I have spoken to filled auditoriums in Boston, in New York, in Detroit and Chicago, and as far west as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Fresno. To Armenians and non-Armenians alike, I described how the Turks had expelled our people from Anatolia, how since 1896 they had murdered two million of us; over these years entire lost provinces of our homeland have been wiped out, and the legions of the disappeared call out to us: Do not believe the deceptions of the Turks; they will honor no treaty. We must protect our vulnerable people. By early 1920, I raised half a million dollars for our refugees.
For the sake of my lungs, I have now returned to California. In the afternoon, I walk the few blocks to our downtown Armenian café called the Asparez Club, where I sit by the window and quietly sip black coffee. Around me, Armenians gossip and play cards. These men fled from Turkey’s machine of death and now are mere shadows of themselves, provincial imitations of the Armenian life in Constantinople, Harput, Van, and Yerevan. Of course, there is Lulegian the publisher of our little newspaper and the gifted actor Zarafian, but it is as if they all pretend, as if they are acting rather than living, and then there are the boasting farmers and packing-house bosses, who worship the American god of money and whose loud voices fill the club. In this city named Fresno, the ash tree, these self-important men, leaders only by virtue of their wealth, come to my table to pay homage while I quietly sit and read Lulegian’s rag of a newspaper.

Maybe the young will rise from these ruins to save us. There is big Aram Saroyan, who at twenty years old is studying in law school; he’s a genuinely Armenian character, yet American too. There is also little Armen Ararat, twenty-four, both a farmer and a poet. He speaks such literate Armenian, it is as if we are talking together in the shadow of the Galata Tower in Constantinople, two witnesses to the disaster. But these young men are weak, tender shoots struggling to survive in the blasting heat of the intolerable Valley. They too pretend, act rather than live, though my heart is touched by their struggle in this place of no culture, no history, no hope. A few of my fellow soldiers have also found their way to this city of dust and ashes. On some Sundays, I visit with Colonel Dikran Haroutian, who helped to defend Harput. His wife’s cooking transports me back to vanished Anatolia, and there is his daughter Artemis, who is so pale yet so sharp as she assesses me with her big Renaissance eyes. In a better time and place, she could well become a colonel herself. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

April 24, 2014 - the 99th anniversary of the Armenian genocide

The Prime Minister of Turkey, who is head of the ruling Islamic party, has recently expressed his commiseration with the Armenian grandchildren of the survivors of the 1915 “massacres” – which he does not call a genocide. What is bad news and what is good here? The bad news is of course that the long-time ruler of Turkey will not use the term genocide, though he does speak of a million and more dead; the word genocide carries a political weight which is too great for him to bear at least this year. The good news is that the long-time ruler of Turkey has directly addressed the great loss of Armenian lives in 1915 when Turkey was under Ottoman rule, and this means that next year’s centennial of these deaths may well provide the occasion for added recognition and rapprochement.

The burden borne by the grandchildren of genocide survivors haunts all Armenians, even the most complacent, and it provides the theme of much Armenian literature over these one hundred years. It is particularly appropriate then, though unfortunately still too tentative, for Erdogan to address himself to those now fully mature Armenian grandchildren. Their significant burden has seldom been noted by Turkish authorities.

It is this burden carried by the children and particularly by the grandchildren of the genocide which has loomed large in my own thought and imagination. It has led me to write a novel I’ve just completed, “The Ash Tree.” The book is partly a fictionalized version of the story of my wife’s family, for her father – Aram Arax – was a witness in Istanbul in 1915, and his memories form a crucial inheritance for Jeanette and her brothers.

That story has been explored in her nephew Mark’s memoir, in other fiction, and in essays; what I’ve tried to do is to tell it particularly from the point of view of the women in the story. The mother and the daughter are two passionate and lively women, who experience in equal measure the tragedy and the comedy of this story.

I’ll try to describe more of "The Ash Tree" in future posts; I’ve been away from this blog due to illness, but am returning.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Comments (restored) on Orhan Pamuk’s "Silent House" by Daniel Melnick

 The voices of our parents and grandparents do not cease haunting us, for their distant singing or remembered cries can continue to fill our inner ear. Coming to terms with that intense chorus is a task taken up in the multi-generational novel, and a brilliant example is Turkish Nobel-prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s Silent House, which wonderfully captures the multiple voices of three generations – turbulent youth, burdened middle-age, and the wizened old.

The voices of six main characters narrate alternate chapters in the beautifully structured counterpoint of this novel (akin to the structure of modern novels by Virginia Woolf or William Faulkner). This work is the second of Pamuk’s ten books but is only now translated. The novel’s characters are members of a fading bourgeois Turkish family. It is the summer of 1980, when deadly clashes between fascist and communist paramilitary groups flared in Turkey; the novel explores the forces in Turkish society which cause such violence and yield  the military coup at the end of 1980.
The youngest of Pamuk’s six narrators is Hasan, a confused, resentful teenaged cousin who rages against society and belongs to a fascist youth group. He acts out in ways which violently affect his well-off cousins and propel him toward a menacing destiny in Istanbul. “All our country’s sorrows,” he ends by saying, “are on account of some bastards who just enjoy playing with us, but one day I’m going to make fun out of their games. I don’t know yet what it is that I’m going to do, but…Watch out for me from now on!” (324-5)
The family which cousin Hasan’s actions tragically affect is made up of a leftist sister – Nilgun, a lovely college student – and her two brothers (one is a teenager, and the other is an alcoholic historian in his thirties, who plays a role at the start of Pamuk’s third novel, The White Hotel). The rest of this enmeshed family consists of the aged grandmother, Fatma, and her perceptive, compassionate housekeeper, a dwarf, who is the illegitimate son of the late grandfather yet “tries to take care of everybody.” (305)  The three grandchildren are visiting their grandmother’s home, which has served them since childhood as an alluring, summer beach house near Istanbul.
Fatma, ninety and frail, is vigilant about behavior in her household yet unable even to know what happens there. Feeling trapped at night in the upstairs bedroom of the silent house, she thinks often of death and especially about her deceased husband, a bitterly disappointed intellectual who never completed his enlightened skeptic’s encyclopedia and whose starkly secular voice haunts her reveries and much of the novel: “we all sink into Nothingness, Fatma;…you decay down to the last strand of hair, with no right even to hope of coming back again.” (297)
At the core of this novel’s power are the moments of existential self-confrontation experienced by the six vivid narrating characters, and particularly by Fatma, who is haunted by her late husband – this cranky, nearly voiceless old woman to whom Pamuk gives a voice. Analyzed almost unto death by her late husband, she feels her interior life spill helplessly out of her, enraged and excoriated: “it’s as though my outside has become my inside and my inside my outside, and in the dark I can’t figure out which one I am.” (331)
The grandchild who most shares Fatma’s alarmed self-awareness is the historian in his thirties, Faruk. And his crisis arises partly from his doubt about writing history. He has come to see the writing of history as pure storytelling, in his time and place in Turkey and not only there (for, of course, corrupting deception and self-deception exist not only in Asia Minor). Faruk’s self-consciousness about what he does is shared, of course, by Pamuk himself, and the works of this great novelist – for example, My Name Is Red and Snow – become increasingly ambitious in content and narrative experiment. These wonderful novels are invariably filled with moving characters like Fatma, Faruk, and even dangerous Hasan, who struggle to fabricate their identities in the midst of a collapsing society and, so, to “make sense of the world by means of tales.” (165)