Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
Though I was well aware of the conflict between Armenia and Turkey I was fuzzy on the details so the first thing I appreciate about this deeply felt book is that it brought me up to date about a still relevant enmity that dates back at least as far as the massacre of 1915. What I found at least as interesting and valuable has, I think, an even broader relevance--the author's personal quest to find a path to some kind of reconciliation between two antagonistic groups of people with diametrically opposed, passionately held, self-evident (to them) beliefs.
Broadly speaking Armenians believe they are victims of genocide, while Turkish people believe there were acts of war on both sides. The author is an Armenian American, born in Iran, and she was brought up with unshakable given assumptions about Turkey and its people that were embedded in her understanding of who she was, which she never the less began to struggle with and question. Meline Toumani didn’t doubt the idea of genocide, and she admits that as an Armenian she’s telling her side of the story, but she did start to wonder if some of the actions of the Armenian diaspora were counterproductive and actually making things more difficult for Armenians living next to Turkey in Armenia and for those Armenians whose families have lived in Turkey all along.
Rather than demanding a specifically worded apology, an all consuming quest that has led some members of the Armenian diaspora to self-justified violence, Toumani decided to do something that was to her at first almost inconceivable--move to Istanbul to better understand the Turkish people and to see if personal interactions, focused discussions, and casual conversations could lead to a better appreciation of each other and a greater alignment of beliefs and worldviews.
This book tells the story of that often difficult and frustrating journey, and it’s dramatic, fascinating, moving, and sometimes disturbing. It made me wonder about my own unexamined but deeply held ideas, and Toumani’s experiences have implications for understanding other grievous mental legacies of oppressed and oppressor like racism, colonialism, anti-semitism, etc. The title, There Was and There Was Not, is the phrase that both Armenians and Turkish people use to begin a tale and it’s ambiguity is an apt reflection of the conflicting senses of reality that people on both sides of the divide hold dear.
I read an advanced review copy of this book. Review opinions are mine.