To most people, Emmett Conn is a confused old World War I veteran, fading in and out of senility. But in his mind, Emmett is haunted by events he'd long forgotten. In his dreams, he's a gendarme, a soldier marching Armenians out of Turkey. He commits unspeakable acts. Yet he feels compelled to spare one remarkable woman: Araxie, the girl with the piercing eyes-one green, one blue.
As the past and present bleed together in The Gendarme, Emmett Conn sets out on one final journey to find Araxie and beg forgiveness, before it's too late. With uncompromising vision and boundless compassion, Mark Mustian has written a transcendent meditation on the power of memory-and the dangers of forgetting who we are and have been.
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.
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Beautiful and sad!!
This story was so sad but so beautiful!! My heart breaks nor only for the Armenians slaughtered but for the Turks who were forced to become murderers and had to live with the guilt, shame and regret of what they did. I hope this book gets made into a movie one day.
Reconciliation, fogiveness, compassion
I have gotten in discussions lately regarding atrocities committed by soldiers that violate the Geneva Convention. Some people believe that, under no circumstances should such atrocities be committed. Others understand why they happen, given all the circumstances in which a soldier finds oneself. Others say, "The enemy gets what they deserve." This final group would resonate with Ahmet's realist admonitions to Araxie, regarding the ". . . simplicity of youth...the naïveté of black and white...there has been injustice, as there would be in anything". Ahmet's logic rests alongside such atrocities, and I wasn't sure I'd want to read this book and be confronted with these things.
However, I found no issue with Mark Mustian's tale of a Turkish-American uncovering memories (his, or otherwise) of a soldier's service in Turkey as a gendarme during WWI. I wondered why I continue to read on, why I continued to feel for Araxie, Ahmet, and "Emmitt", Ahmet's Americanized persona. I think the distance of years helped, but also Emmitt's own doubts that Ahmet's memories were his own. I was reminded of Nicole Krauss' equally moving THE HISTORY OF LOVE, and how war, and immigrants fleeing to America from it, created these dual personalities for so many people. The gap is stretched even more when we read of Emmitt struggling to connect with his children and grandchildren, all modern, all American, and so different from he.
I never thought I could come to love someone like Ahmet, and I thought I did, or maybe I didn't--maybe I just wanted him to be happy, to finally be reconciled with his past and its actions. He is like us all, imperfect, human, and capable of such change. At the end of this novel, I wondered if the possibility of redemption exists for everyone, and is it attainable from within, or only from those we have wronged? I cannot speak for others, especially those with family history regarding the Armenian genocide, but it has made me forgive my own tormentors a little more, so I guess it is possible.
This novel is truly exceptional. It covers a period of history that Is too often dismissed and which should never be forgotten. It also explores the immigrant experience in the US and family dynamics associated with it. Lastly it covers beautifully the role of the elderly in our society, or should I say their lack of a role as we send them away and forget about them so that we can get on with our own busy lives. This novel is unforgettable and deserves a place in any fine literature collection.