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Emmett Conn is 92 years old and he has started having seizures and disturbing dreams/flashbacks. His early years are a mystery to him anyway. He awoke in a British hospital in WWI, a Turkish soldier mistakenly picked up after he was severely wounded. That’s as far back as he can remember. But now in his dreams he seems to be re-living a past where he was a soldier in charge of a group of Armenian people in what later came to be known as the Armenian genocide. Are these real memories? And what of the beautiful girl with different-colored eyes? Was she real and did he love her?
I feel like this is a very literary book and I should have something very smart and literary to say, but that’s just not my style. I can only tell you what I liked and didn’t like.
I had never even heard of the Armenian genocide until sometime in the past year or two. It was actually a passing reference on GoodReads. I left it at that. I’m disappointed in myself. I’ll be the first to spout off with how we have to remember the Holocaust so we don’t repeat history, but I didn’t bother to at least look at Wikipedia and see what happened to the Armenians. And they are in danger of being forgotten. I saw this author (who is of Armenian descent) speak at the Decatur Book Festival, and he said that Hitler, only about 20 years after all this happened, even said something like, “Who even remembers the Armenians?” Shameful.
This book is told from an aggressor’s point of view. He personally didn’t feel strongly one way or the other about the Armenians, he just wanted to join the army and fight in WWI. Before that could happen, he had to “prove himself” by escorting a group of Armenians to a refugee camp. He’s not a terrible person, but even he does a few horrible things. His biggest crime is in letting some of his soldiers do pretty much whatever they want. And they are creatively terrifying. He’s only about 17 years old though. Does that excuse it?
Araxie, the girl he dreams of, is a wonderful character. She at least appears to be fearless. When she realizes she has caught Emmett’s attention, she doesn’t use him for her personal gain. She challenges him to become a better person and to stand up for her people.
In Emmett’s present, he is faced with failing health and family that doesn’t really care. It’s easier to lock him away somewhere than to deal with the reality of his fading health. He loses all say in his own care and becomes powerless. He wants to mend his relationships in the last years of his life, but his family isn’t reciprocating. He has become a sad old man.
And this is where I feel like I should insert my smart, literary thing about shades of gray, and voices for the voiceless, but even if I wrote those kinds of reviews, it’s been too long since I finished the book for me to really come up with something like that.
I’m glad I read this, and I do recommend it for those who are interested in issues of the Holocaust and genocide. Don’t let these people be forgotten.
This book counts for the Amy Einhorn Perpetual Challenge.
Buy The Gendarme on