Passage to Ararat
Michael J. Arlen, 1975
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2nd edition (2006)
Series: FSG Classics
Format: Paperback, 312 pages
Summary: In Passage to Ararat, which received the National Book Award in 1976, Michael J. Arlen goes beyond the portrait of his father, the famous Anglo-Armenian novelist of the 1920s, that he created in Exiles to try to discover what his father had tried to forget: Armenia and what it meant to be an Armenian, a descendant of a proud people whom conquerors had for centuries tried to exterminate. But perhaps most affectingly, Arlen tells a story as large as a whole people yet as personal as the uneasy bond between a father and a son, offering a masterful account of the affirmation and pain of kinship.
Goodreads: Interesting journey that the author takes to his homeland of Armenia. The interpersonal conflict between the author and other key figures in the story was helpful, as was the internal dialogue regarding Armenian self-identity and making meaning of the first holocaust perpetrated by the Turks over a period of roughly 20 years. A good reminder to treat minorities well wherever you may live.
“More than an excursion into a place...the whole work glows like a jewel with the warmth of humanity and the appreciation, hard won, of both strength and weakness.” ―Eugenia Thornton, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Beautifully written and stunning in its insight and honesty... One comes to see that the object of Arlen's search is not only, or even primarily, Armenia or Armenians, but himself and his father.” ―David Milofsky, Milwaukee Journal
“[A] moving, passionate book....written with a mixture of passion, puzzlement, sorrow, and outrage.” ―Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
“Beautifully moving.... The reader becomes captivated with exotic tales from the past and joins Arlen's journey with zest in this quite marvelous record.” ―William Hogan, San Francisco Chronicle
National Book Award, 1976
An Armenian Sketchbook
Vasily Grossman, tr. R. & E. Chandler 2013
Publisher: NYRB Classics (February 19, 2013)
Series: New York Review Books Classics
Format: Paperback, 160 pages
Summary: Few writers had to confront as many of the last century’s mass tragedies as Vasily Grossman, who wrote with terrifying clarity about the Shoah, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the Terror Famine in the Ukraine. An Armenian Sketchbook, however, shows us a very different Grossman, notable for his tenderness, warmth, and sense of fun.
After the Soviet government confiscated—or, as Grossman always put it, “arrested”—Life and Fate, he took on the task of revising a literal Russian translation of a long Armenian novel. The novel was of little interest to him, but he needed money and was evidently glad of an excuse to travel to Armenia. An Armenian Sketchbook is his account of the two months he spent there.
By far the most personal and intimate of Grossman’s works, it is endowed with an air of absolute spontaneity, as though he is simply chatting to the reader about his impressions of Armenia—its mountains, its ancient churches, its people—while also examining his own thoughts and moods. A wonderfully human account of travel to a faraway place, An Armenian Sketchbook also has the vivid appeal of a self-portrait.
“Vasily Grossman is the Tolstoy of the USSR.” —Martin Amis
“Charming. Grossman digresses as nimbly about the master craftsmen of Russian stoves found in the homes of the high-mountain villagers as he does about the touching customs of a rustic wedding he attended. Living among the Armenians, he witnessed a kind of timeless biblical nobility he conveys with artless simplicity in his own work.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Like history, human nature is open-ended; people are capable of doing evil as much as good…[Vasily Grossman] the writer sought to probe the historical fabric and future potential of his society. Perhaps it's because of this stance that his work is finding its way back into print…” —The Nation
“Vasily Grossman’s writing sneaks up on you, its simplicity building to powerful impressions as he records the small things that occur in people's lives as they experience - or endure - larger events.” —The Jewish Chronicle