|'The Daydreaming Boy' is a triumph for the truth of imagination|
|Novel deals with one man's personal journey after the Armenian Genocide
It is hard to think of another novel that represents the horrors of war and of violence - or, more specifically, the horror of the atrocities committed against the Armenian population of Turkey in the 1915 Genocide - with such freshness and creativity, than Micheline Aharonian Marcom's debut novel, "Three Apples Fell from Heaven" (2001).
Marcom's new book, "The Daydreaming Boy" (2004), is as good but deviates from more traditional narrative structures and ordinary discourse to, once again, "history the unhistoried" and say the "unsaid unsayable things."
Whereas "Three Apples Fell from Heaven" dealt with the disruption caused by the brutalities of the Ottoman government to the lives of innocent Armenians in Kharpert, Turkey, "The Daydreaming Boy" shifts the setting to Beirut and deals with one man's personal journey.
It is the story of the Vahe Tcheubjian, a middle-aged survivor of Turkey's Armenian massacres who spends the novel contemplating his brutal past while losing himself in a series of adulterous trysts that bring him slowly to a realization of the moral compromises he has made.
Vahe is an orphan - in Marcom's words, the least historied of the victims of war - who, along with other children, was "loaded onto the boxcars at Eregli [Turkey] and unloaded in Lebanon by the sea's edge" at The Bird's Nest orphanage. A survivor who "would have liked to remain unexisted," Vahe is now a grown man living with his wife, Juliana, also of Kharpert, in 1960's Beirut in an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean.
Rather than record the details of Vahe's external life, "The Daydreaming Boy" takes us to his interior scenery cycling through the fantasies, the dreams and the memories of a man attempting to come to terms with an impossible past.
The book moves back and forth between Vahe's fantasy of making love to Beatrice, the Palestinian servant girl; his imagining of his dead mother's body; weekly visits to the zoological gardens (perhaps to free the caged beast inside of him); and memories of Vostanig, another orphan (who later commits suicide) "left outside the walls of the orphanage ... deposited there in the middle of the night, by whom we were never to know."
Besides giving expression to the truth buried deep in Vahe's consciousness - Marcom's primary concern - these repeated images allow us to share the confusion of a man from whom a whole world has disappeared.
Marcom writes with mellifluous, poetic tone - for instance, using such clever linking devices as the sea, "the vast blue belt" of the Mediterranean whose waves Vahe can still hear hitting the gray rocks outside the orphanage dormitory windows. Vahe, Marcom writes, "only loved the sea and to bathe in it. The sea was always his "solace, his haven," and also possibly a final resting place: "I want the sea only, in perpetuity, impossibly."
Vahe half attempts to commit suicide to return to the sea and its "quiet eternal warmth." To "unexist" seems to be the only way out of the "eternal blackness" of living "in this world devoid of color."
Vahe is a man haunted by his memories - by the torments he both endured and visited upon weaker fellow orphans in an Armenian orphanage; of his long-gone family and his pain at his separation from them, especially his mother; of his infatuation with his maid, which turns his wife against him and angers her even as he opens out this narrative as if a confession.
Vahe survives solely through his fantasies. The fantasy of love makes the daily bearing of the memory of "this stink-hole orphanage" possible for him, "and of course there is only the bearing of it."
Nonetheless, Vahe's fantasies come right out of the collective experience of a people "distanced from land and language." The journey inward thus taps into a clearly recognizable historical context, the tragedy that befell a nation still "adrift because the past is always unspoken heavy and ever-present."
If Marcom uses fiction of the imagination to tell her story, it is because only fiction can give expression to what is beyond the daily conveyance of facts. The book picks up where the testimonies of Armenian genocide victims left off.
What finally makes "The Daydreaming Boy" such a stunning text is Marcom's unfaltering commitment to her medium. She bends language to coin new words and lulls the reader into a trance. At no point, however, do her stylistic choices seem intrusive. "This notlistens Vahe," and "I unexisted them," or "they must be intolerated" and "he notspeaks" are perfectly adjusted to the disjointedness of the mind of "this sad and desperate boy who's become a sad desperate man."
In Marcom's hands, language becomes a powerful tool to shake us into the significance of the crime, "the death of a race and our tongue," still awaiting acknowledgement. The precision of observation of "the notroads," "the spectered notflesh," or "this notfeeling" is startling.
"The Daydreaming Boy" is available at all good bookshops
Beirut,12 27 2004
The Daily Star