Tuesday, February 8, 2011

CBR3-5: The Gendarme - Mark Mustian

Mustian's debut novel is a meditation on memory in which the dreams of a former Turkish soldier contain the truth of his past. Emmett Conn is 92 and living in Georgia when he begins dreaming of his youth and his involvement in the Armenian diaspora. After 70 years of amnesia caused by his WWI injuries, Emmett's past returns with a vengeance following surgery for a brain tumor. Emmett knows he fought the British at Gallipoli, was wounded, and was cared for by a nurse, Carol, whom he married and accompanied back to the U.S. But in his violent dreams, he relives his actions as a Turkish gendarme in the forced death march of thousands of Armenians into Syria. Emmett recalls snippets of his murderous and rapacious acts but also of his obsession with a beautiful young Armenian girl, Araxie. His dream life leads him to one conclusion: he must find Araxie and beg her forgiveness. Mustian's staccato prose, an attempt to emulate Emmett's skittish and elusive dreams, works sometimes better than others, but the novel effectively captures the human capacity for survival and redemption. - Publishers Weekly
I was drawn to the cover of this book at the public library a few months ago, but past it up because I wasn't sure if  the story was as riveting as the cover. Then two of the book bloggers I follow (Medieval Bookworm & S Krishna) both posted reviews about the book that got be intrigued with it again.  Luckily I found an ARC copy at work on the giveaway shelf.

I definitely wasn't prepared for the amount of description of the violence and sexual acts that the main character and others participated in.  Unfortunately, I've become a little desensitized to violence and vivid descriptions, but this book caused some weird dreams for me as well. It was also hard to switch between Emmett's flashbacks through his dreams and the present day at first.

Telling the story from the "immigrant" perspective was compelling.  Emmett's struggle to answer the question of where he was from reminded the reader throughout the book what his mindset was. Before reading this book, I had no idea about the supposed genocide in Armenia and Turkey during World War II. Reading the author chat at the end of the book also informed me about the current day sensitivity towards this subject as well.

This book did his a note with me since I could easily see my grandfather, a World War II veteran who struggled with dementia at the end of his life, within Emmett's actions.  I could relate to Emmett's daughter as she adjusted to her father's behavior. 

While this book can be squeamish at times, it does take modern day themes and intertwines them with a historical setting that most of us are not familiar with.

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