WE HAVE MOVED! If you are joining us, please join us at our new home, The Coil, over on Medium.

If you have arrived at a broken link, please go to The Coil and start your search over.


Orhan’s Inheritance

Fiction | Historical | Armenian Genocide
352 pages
5 ½” x 8 ¼” Hardcover
Also available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook formats
ISBN 978-1-61620-374-0
First Edition
Review Copy: Paperback ARC
Algonquin Books
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Available HERE
Review by Eric Shonkwiler

In the early days of World War I, the Ottoman Empire sought about to systematically exterminate its Armenian populace, located primarily in present-day Turkey. It is estimated that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed in this act of genocide, and despite this, it is not a well-known or acknowledged fact. The language associated with this event is politically charged to this day, and the author of this review wishes to make it clear that at no point in this review will the use of synonyms for genocide mean anything other than that very word.

Orhan’s Inheritance is a twofold narrative, split across the present day of Orhan Türkoglu, and the memories of Seda Melkonian, beginning in 1915. What sets the story in motion is the death of Orhan’s grandfather, Kemal, who submerges himself in a vat of dye at the Türkoglu residence in provincial Turkey. Orhan stands to inherit a textile empire from his grandfather, but the inclusion of another beneficiary in the will, Seda—a complete unknown to the family—threatens to throw its legality into contest under sharia law. In order to prevent the will being made void, Orhan must travel to a Los Angeles home for the elderly to meet Seda, and convince her to take a large sum of money over a house that, he presumes, she has no connection to or desire for. What Orhan doesn’t realize, however, is that his grandfather and Seda are tied together by a complex and painful history, one that is shared by his whole nation.

In the other half of the tale, near the beginning of the century, Seda is part of a well-off Armenian family who Kemal, a Turk, works for. Seda’s memories begin with the start of trouble, though it would appear that her life before the genocide was almost pastoral. The political climate has begun to shift, though, and Seda’s uncle, Nazareth, has been forcibly conscripted into the army. The author here does a fine job of playing out the tension of an event that, even if you don’t know, you can begin very swiftly to understand by context. The Melkonians’ world is about to change, and there is a terrible helplessness that accompanies the wonder at the otherwise beautiful world Ohanesian describes. When Seda’s father is taken, along with a number of local Armenian men, it’s not long before the rest of the Armenian population is rounded up and sent toward a remote stretch of Syrian desert. This long scene, evoking the marches in Elie Wiesel’s Night and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms at once, contains the worst of the tragedies visited upon Seda and her diminishing family. Among them, Seda’s sister is abducted in the middle of their march, in one of the most tense and beautiful parts of the book:

Anush’s shoes, in particular, are a lovely sight. She wears a brilliant pair of dark blue suede shoes with a large silver buckle that gleams in the sun. As she walks, the sunlight kisses the sweet little buckle now and then, shooting sparks of light into the dusty air. [… Seda’s] attention is so fixed that at first she does not hear the sound of galloping hooves […].

Ohanesian is at her best while navigating this thin line, showing us horror while evoking some kind of beauty. From here, the story moves as you might expect, though even your expectations become charged with a kind of morbid chill at what transpires.

Wrestling a book with this kind of subject matter can be difficult, but in a way, there’s no wrong move. If there’s any fault to Orhan’s Inheritance, it’s the rather predictable nature with which the book wraps up—somewhat neatly, somewhat nicely. I suspect that the author would be happy with knowing, though, that there is no mistaking the point to this novel. The spread of awareness of the crimes perpetrated against the Armenian people, versus a perfect story? Not such a loss. Most books do neither, and for Ohanesian, debut novelist or no, this is a powerful work of transmission.

Eric Shonkwiler is the author of the novel, Above All Men, chosen as a Midwest Connections 2014 Pick by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association. He received his MFA in Fiction from University of California​-​Riverside as a Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellow and ​was recently selected as a New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence.

• This book was sent to Alternating Current from the publisher at the request of the reviewer, who met the author in a workshop/class and expressed interest in reviewing the book. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

No comments: