Audiobook Review: The Guest Room

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Image via Goodreads

Rating: 3 out of 5

I have to admit that I was surprised that my fellow book club babes felt so negatively toward Chris Bohjalian’s The Guest Room. I was already a fan of the author after reading The Sandcastle Girls, his heartbreaking historical fiction novel about the Armenian Genocide. Honestly, there are so few Armenians left in existence, let alone Armenian writers, which compels me to appreciate the creative folks who share my heritage.

So even though some of the ladies at book club agreed with my 3-star rating, I was much more sympathetic about liking this story. However, since I recognize my own cultural bias, I wanted to share a plot summary written by my friend Kat, because it’s absolutely hilarious. She actually re-enacted this description during our meetup this week, and it’s safe to say that her sassy summaries will be a regular feature hereafter:

So basically you got a 40ish older brother (Mr. No Backbone) who throws a bachelor party for his immature womanizing 30ish baby brother at his home (*cough* damn fool *cough*), of which he shares with his devoted wife and 9-year-old daughter.

Said baby brother and even more hounddog groomsmen decide to hire strippers of which they pay extra to have sex (i.e. tag team) and guest what, oh, the strippers were sex slaves who took that very opportunity to kill their bodyguards/ captors right there in the house.

So now the strippers are on the run (literally 10 blocks down the street… They so smart 😐), the house is a crime scene, the older brother’s marriage and family are falling apart (🙄), and there is a whole lot of media coverage & legal heat on all the groomsmen (ya damn skippy 😏).

I couldn’t get jiggy with this because the characters were utterly stupid, and it was like as the story went on, the author kept dumbing everyone down for cheap thrills and sad attempts at creating suspense. Uh no! This gets 3 stars if I’m being nice, and a 2.5 if I’m keeping it real. Read at your own risk, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I have to agree with Kat that you question the judgment of the characters throughout the novel, correcting their decisions in your mind as a desperate attempt to prevent this bachelor-party-gone-wrong from getting even worse.

However, I pitied Richard, the relatively innocent bystander dealing with the aftermath of his brother’s mistakes, and Alexandra, who never asked to be abducted from her family in Armenia and forced to live as a sex slave. Having the POVs shift between these two protagonists, as well as to Richard’s wife and daughter, allows you to get in the minds of everyone affected and form your own conclusions about how you would feel and act in the same situation.

My only major complaint with The Guest Room was that it had too much feeling and not enough acting. Bohjalian is wonderful at writing inner turmoil, but this was not the sexy thriller my book club and I had been hoping for. As Kat concluded, read at your own risk, but as long as you know what kind of story you’re getting yourself into, I thought that it was enjoyable.

My final words of wisdom if you plan on adding this to your to-read list: definitely get the print version! Unfortunately, the audiobook is terrible with accents, and Alexandra sounds like an awful stereotype of a foreign bimbo. The Guest Room is a story with a ton of potential that didn’t quite deliver, and the poorly executed audiobook is another testament to that.

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101 Years and Counting: Remembering the Armenian Genocide

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Another year, another moment to reflect on one of our world’s most devastating tragedies. April 24th marks Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, commemorating the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

If you’re wondering why anyone outside of Armenia and its diaspora should care about this event, it is important to note that to this day Turkey denies that the genocide ever occurred, or at the very least asserts that the death toll is extremely overestimated (untrue) and that the Armenians started the conflict and therefore deserved their retribution (grossly untrue). Even worse, despite the outrage of millions of Armenian-Americans like myself, the United States also does not formally recognize the Armenian Genocide for fear of damaging its military alliance with Turkey.

If you’re a new reader of Book Club Babe and were unaware of my Armenian ancestry and of the cultural significance of the genocide, then I urge you to educate yourself today and spread your knowledge with others. You can do your part by sharing this blog post to your social networks with hashtags, such as #RememberAndDemand and #TurkeyFailed. And if you’d like to read some historical fiction, then I recommend The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian and The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian.

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And for more information on the Armenian Genocide, please read my posts from previous years (20152014, 2013, 2012). Thank you for your support!

Book Review: The Gendarme

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Last night I commemorated the centennial of the Armenian Genocide by visiting San Francisco’s city hall, which was lit up in red, blue, and orange to match the Armenian flag.

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Unfortunately, the fire department forbid me and the hundreds of people waiting outside to join the speeches and dance performance in the already packed hall, so I left with nothing but a few good photos.

Image via Goodreads

This experience mirrored my minor disappointment while reading Mark T. Mustian’s The Gendarme (2010). The historical fiction novel is narrated by Ahmet Khan, or his preferred Americanized name Emmett Conn, who is in his 90s and suffering from disturbing dreams caused by a brain tumor.

These dreams are actually flashbacks during the Armenian Genocide, in which Emmett participated as a gendarme–a Turkish soldier. His job was to send Armenian deportees through the desert to Syria, but he quickly learned that this march was to their deaths as both countries’ governments had no intention of keeping them alive.

During the trek, Emmett falls in love with an inappropriately young Armenian girl named Araxie. Despite the barbarity he commits on this journey, he risks his life to protect hers. When they finally arrive in Syria, he must decide how to escape their wretched fate.

I must warn you that this book is horrifyingly graphic. Not only do Emmett and his fellow gendarmes sexually assault and murder innocent people, those who are spared succumb to debilitating diseases. It takes a long time before the reader can sympathize with Emmett for being on the wrong side of history.

However, in the end, I felt pity for this man for his life of suffering, both when he was young committing atrocities and in his old age when his family commits him to an institution for his mental instability. You are already aware that Emmett and Araxie did not escape the genocide together, and it’s especially heartbreaking to watch Emmett realize his crimes after decades of post-traumatic repression.

The Gendarme isn’t the most well-written story, and many readers will find its nonlinear structure aggravating. I should also point out that although Mustian and I are both Armenians, I appreciated reading a Turk’s perspective–however abhorrent it may be.

This book cannot compare to The Sandcastle Girls in terms of literary prowess, but both are excellent tales of this historical tragedy that does not get enough attention. The Gendarme made me sob at the end, but more importantly, it made me grateful for what my ancestors suffered so that my family could live on.

Never Forget 1915: Commemorating the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide

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For those who know me closely, you’ll know that April 24th is an important day to me, but because I’ve gained quite a few new followers since last year, I’ll explain why.

I’m Armenian, one of many in an ethnic group that usually goes unnoticed. Most odars, or “outsiders,” only know about us if they live in Californian cities like Fresno and Glendale with large Armenian populations, or are otherwise big fans of the Kardashian Klan.

April 24th is culturally significant, because it marks the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, a historical tragedy in which 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Turks during World War I due to religious differences and political agenda.

This year is especially monumental, because it’s the centennial anniversary of the genocide, which historians estimate as beginning in 1915 and ending in 1923. 100 years have passed since our ancestors were stolen from their homes and sent on death marches, either killed by mass shootings, burnings, and hangings, or by the starvation and disease they suffered in the desert.

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Why does this event matter after all this time? Because to this day, Turkey denies that a genocide ever occurred, citing these deaths as grossly overestimated and merely casualties in a time of civil war. Even in 2015, it is illegal to criticize the Turkish government, and many journalists have been arrested for speaking the truth. The United States, fearful of losing a strategic military alliance, has cowardly remained silent on the issue and also refuses to recognize this monstrosity as genocide.

My ancestors may have survived such a terrifying time, but we Armenians are all affected by this injustice. Unlike the Jewish population who has received recognition of Germany’s wrongdoings during WWII via the Nuremberg Trials, Armenians are ignored and dismissed year after year.

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“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” – Adolf Hitler, before invading Poland in 1939

This centennial is no different, and I fear that generations of Armenian-Americans–including myself–will die having seen no change, until the diaspora has become so small and diluted that there’s no one left to care. After all, I’m only 25% Armenian. I highly doubt that someone 1/64th Armenian is going to be all that bothered by what her ancestors suffered long ago.

Regardless of this bleak outlook, I believe that everyone in the world needs to hear our story. Every year until my very last, I will spread awareness of this abominable crime, and I urge you to do the same. You don’t have to be Armenian to tell someone about the meaning behind today, so please educate those around you. The more people who know what truly happened, the less likely it will be forgotten.

For those of you in the Bay Area, I will be at San Francisco City Hall tonight to commemorate the genocide’s centennial. The rest of you should come back to Book Club Babe tomorrow for my book review of The Gendarme by Mark Mustian, a story about a Turkish soldier who falls in love with his Armenian deportee.

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I also recommend The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

And for more information on the Armenian Genocide, please read my previous posts (2014, 2013, 2012). Thank you for your support!

In Honor of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

Hi everyone!

As is tradition on Book Club Babe, I spend this day reflecting on my ancestral history and appreciating my culture. This April 24th is the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which means that next year will mark an entire century that this tragedy has been ignored.

As I have stated before, unlike the Jews during World War II, the Armenians never received their equivalent of the Nuremberg Trials. To this day, Turkey denies slaughtering its neighbors, and the United States and other nations refuse to formally recognize the ethnic cleansing as an official genocide–simply due to fear cowardice over losing their strategic military alliances in the Middle East.

I urge everyone to learn more about the genocide and spread awareness. Educate your friends and family and urge your local politicians to demand justice for the Armenian community. Violence begets violence, and the longer we turn our face from it, the longer it will continue.

You don’t have to be Armenian to empathize with one. To mark this day, I thought I would reblog my review of Chris Bohjalian’s historical novel, The Sandcastle Girls. It’s a beautifully written, heartbreaking depiction of this history, and one of my favorite reads of 2013. Highly, highly recommended!

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

One of the best feelings when you’re reading is when the story gains momentum and you just have to keep going until you finish it. This was one of those stories, and I’m so glad. As an Armenian, I had very high expectations of Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls, because it addresses the historical tragedy closest to my heart.

Bohjalian certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to discussing, as he puts it, “The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About.” Although Turkey, the United States, and various other countries refrain from calling the annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians a “genocide,” that’s exactly what it was. Between 1915 and 1923, we lost over half of our population, forever impacting future generations.

These multiple generations are all included in The Sandcastle Girls, since the author writes two stories concurrently. Laura Petrosian is writing a novel in the present-day about her grandparents, Armenian engineer Armen Petrosian and Bostonian volunteer Elizabeth Endicott.

In 1915, Armen has escaped the clutches of the Turks, killing men and losing his wife and daughter in the process. He meets Elizabeth in Aleppo, Syria, where her, her father, and other Americans are doing their best to help the survivors. The two quickly fall in love, but when Armen decides to fight in the war, their relationship must withstand great distance and the uncertainty of whether they’ll ever meet again.

Of course, the reader knows that they’re eventually reunited, otherwise Laura would not have been born and able to share her memories of her grandparents. From describing delicious cheese boregs to offering anecdotes of contemporary tension between Armenians and Turks, I appreciated such a devotion to our culture.

Even though my own family escaped the genocide before the death marches began, I related so much to this story. Having Armenian ancestry seems to be essential to our people, whether they’re full-blooded Hyes (Armenians) or part-odars (outsiders). Bohjalian does an excellent job explaining the nuances of our diaspora, and I recommend this novel to anyone who wants to learn more about it.

Obviously, this book won’t be for everybody. If you have a weak constitution, you probably won’t be able to handle the graphic scenes of rape, torture, dismemberment, disease, and death. Before the pace picked up, I would have to read this story in small amounts, just to save myself from becoming too emotionally overwhelmed. As many other readers have pointed out, this is not a beach read, but it’s a read that makes you simply grateful that you’re alive.

Some have called The Sandcastle Girls formulaic and melodramatic, its characters annoying and two-dimensional. Others dislike the flipping back and forth between past and present. I, on the other hand, argue that the book effectively weaves together this family’s lineage, but whether it’s 1915 or 2012, people are not always likeable or relatable. They make mistakes, and this genocide was one of the biggest mistakes in human history.

It’s easy to call this a wartime love story, but I think it’s also disrespectful to narrow it down like that. Bohjalian simultaneously educates his audience with historical research and vividly paints the picture of the desolate desert where  over a million Armenians met their doom. I know that I’m biased, but The Sandcastle Girls is so much bigger than boy-meets-girl, and if you read it, I hope you’ll agree.

I won’t spoil the meaning of the book’s title, but I think that a sandcastle is an apt metaphor for Armenia. We may have been trodded and trampled on in the past, but we were a shining beacon of hope in that desert, and we’ll continue to rebuild. For a race to experience such horror, we have become even more industrious, hard-working, and thankful for each day.

And even if those who wish us ill try to demolish the sandcastle and brush away the sandy remains as if it had never existed, what they’ll fail to erase is our memories. That, to me, is the most powerful weapon of all.

Honoring Armenian Genocide Memorial Day

For those who have been reading my blog, you already know that I’m deeply proud of my Armenian heritage. But if you’re new to Book Club Babe, today is the 98th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a horrific tragedy in which over 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

I won’t go into too much detail of the historical event, since I’ve already done so in last year’s post, but I encourage you to educate yourself on the genocide, given that Turkey, the United States, and many other countries still fail to recognize it as such.

But this year, I didn’t want to dwell on my ongoing frustration with the American government valuing military alliances over human rights. Instead, I wanted to share some fun facts on Armenians and their culture. It’s a shame that most of the world has never even heard of this country, met any of its amazing people, or eaten any of its delicious food!

So let’s jump right into the trivia!

Capital city of Yerevan

10 Fun Facts about Armenia

1.     Armenia is a tiny country, only about 11,500 square miles. That’s smaller than the state of Maryland!

2.     Written records of the Armenian language date back to the 5th century CE. It has since evolved to have 38 letters, much to the dismay of Armenian-language learners.

3.     And despite its tiny geographical size, two Armenian dialects exist: Eastern and Western. Some differences are seen in a swapping of letters, from b to p and k to g (For example, you say “hello” as “barev” in Eastern and “parev” in Western).

4.     Armenians call their country “Hayastan,” which has led to the modern members of the diaspora to refer to themselves as “Hyes.” So if you see a bumper sticker declaring “Hye Pride”–no, it’s not a misspelled proclamation of drug abuse!

5.     On the flip side, anyone who is not a “Hye” is called an “odar,” an outsider.

6.     The national currency is the Armenian Dram. The rate as of today is $1 USD = $416 AMD.

7.     Armenia officially achieved independence in 1991, after thousands of years of being controlled by “Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, Persians, Ottoman Turks, and Russians.”

8.     The Armenian Genocide is a reminder of how different the country is compared to its neighbors. Labeled as everything from Eastern European, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern, it’s difficult to explain its geograpical uniqueness. But to this day, it remains predominantly Christian, despite horrendous efforts to change that through ethnic cleansing.

9.     The Armenian Apostolic Church is the world’s oldest national church and observes  Christmas on January 6th to coincide with the Epiphany. The Roman Catholic Church also observed this date until the 4th century CE when it allegedly changed the date to December 25th to undermine pagan winter solstice celebrations like Saturnalia.

10.     There are some fabulous famous people of Armenian descent. The easiest way to tell is to spot surnames that end in “-ian” or “-yan,” which means “issued from-” So “Petrosian” is the Armenian version of “Peterson.”

Cher in Armenia, 1993

Here’s a list of celebrities of Armenian heritage:

  • Andre Agassi, tennis player
  • Ross Bagdasarian, creator of “Alvin and the Chipmunks”
  • Cher (Cherylin Sarkissian), singer/actress
  • System of a Down, rock band
  • Dita von Teese, burlesque artist
  • Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. (adopted by Armenian woman, Clara Hagopian, who taught him the language)
  • Princess Diana (ok, she’s only 1/64th Armenian, but once a Hye, always a Hye!)

So there’s plenty of other famous Armenians besides the Kardashians! (Thank goodness!)

Took the words right out of my mouth, Kourtney!

Anyways, I hope that you learned a lot about my culture. Please share these fun facts with everyone you meet today to honor Armenian Genocide Memorial Day!

Book Review: The Sandcastle Girls

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

One of the best feelings when you’re reading is when the story gains momentum and you just have to keep going until you finish it. This was one of those stories, and I’m so glad. As an Armenian, I had very high expectations of Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls, because it addresses the historical tragedy closest to my heart.

Bohjalian certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to discussing, as he puts it, “The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About.” Although Turkey, the United States, and various other countries refrain from calling the annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians a “genocide,” that’s exactly what it was. Between 1915 and 1923, we lost over half of our population, forever impacting future generations.

These multiple generations are all included in The Sandcastle Girls, since the author writes two stories concurrently. Laura Petrosian is writing a novel in the present-day about her grandparents, Armenian engineer Armen Petrosian and Bostonian volunteer Elizabeth Endicott.

In 1915, Armen has escaped the clutches of the Turks, killing men and losing his wife and daughter in the process. He meets Elizabeth in Aleppo, Syria, where her, her father, and other Americans are doing their best to help the survivors. The two quickly fall in love, but when Armen decides to fight in the war, their relationship must withstand great distance and the uncertainty of whether they’ll ever meet again.

Of course, the reader knows that they’re eventually reunited, otherwise Laura would not have been born and able to share her memories of her grandparents. From describing delicious cheese boregs to offering anecdotes of contemporary tension between Armenians and Turks, I appreciated such a devotion to our culture.

Even though my own family escaped the genocide before the death marches began, I related so much to this story. Having Armenian ancestry seems to be essential to our people, whether they’re full-blooded Hyes (Armenians) or part-odars (outsiders). Bohjalian does an excellent job explaining the nuances of our diaspora, and I recommend this novel to anyone who wants to learn more about it.

Obviously, this book won’t be for everybody. If you have a weak constitution, you probably won’t be able to handle the graphic scenes of rape, torture, dismemberment, disease, and death. Before the pace picked up, I would have to read this story in small amounts, just to save myself from becoming too emotionally overwhelmed. As many other readers have pointed out, this is not a beach read, but it’s a read that makes you simply grateful that you’re alive.

Some have called The Sandcastle Girls formulaic and melodramatic, its characters annoying and two-dimensional. Others dislike the flipping back and forth between past and present. I, on the other hand, argue that the book effectively weaves together this family’s lineage, but whether it’s 1915 or 2012, people are not always likeable or relatable. They make mistakes, and this genocide was one of the biggest mistakes in human history.

It’s easy to call this a wartime love story, but I think it’s also disrespectful to narrow it down like that. Bohjalian simultaneously educates his audience with historical research and vividly paints the picture of the desolate desert where  over a million Armenians met their doom. I know that I’m biased, but The Sandcastle Girls is so much bigger than boy-meets-girl, and if you read it, I hope you’ll agree.

I won’t spoil the meaning of the book’s title, but I think that a sandcastle is an apt metaphor for Armenia. We may have been trodded and trampled on in the past, but we were a shining beacon of hope in that desert, and we’ll continue to rebuild. For a race to experience such horror, we have become even more industrious, hard-working, and thankful for each day.

And even if those who wish us ill try to demolish the sandcastle and brush away the sandy remains as if it had never existed, what they’ll fail to erase is our memories. That, to me, is the most powerful weapon of all.