Wednesday, January 7, 2015

There Was and There Was Not

There Was and There Was Not
by Meline Toumani
Henry Holt and Company, 2014.  284 pgs. Nonfiction

Who remembers the Armenians? Hitler famously declared in the expectation that no one would care, by and by, for his extermination of the Jews since no one much noticed or cared what the Turks did to the Armenians in 1915.  Meline Toumani is an Armenian-American who grew up in New Jersey and though she grew up among a people obsessed with Turkey's being called to account on an international stage for the Armenian genocide and diaspora, she decides to find out for herself whether the Armenian refusal to let the past go is justified and necessary.  So she moves to the Heart of Darkness, Istanbul. What follows is a beautifully well-written, carefully nuanced consideration of right and wrong, good and evil, indifference and zeal, and the nature of making peace. At the heart of her narrative lies the story of Hrant Dink, an Armenian newspaper editor living in Turkey, who is assassinated because when he wrote that Armenian hatred of Turkey was a "poison in the blood of the Armenians," word got around that he had said Turks had poison blood. With a good man dead, everything in Toumani's investigations becomes more serious, fraught with an intensity that can no longer be cloaked with dispassion. Toumani is a fine, fine writer, clear-eyed about herself and others, and "There Was and There Was Not" was well-chosen as one of the New York Times' Best Books of 2014.


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