The Gendarme by Mark Mustian

Mark Mustian's The Gendarme (2010) is a fictional tale of a very real event, the forced deportation of Armenians from Turkey during World War I. (The Greeks, also a Christian minority, had the same kind of experience in Turkey during the period, though this book focuses on the Armenian story.)

Just finding a reason to look more into the historical period, which is something I did, makes this difficult book worth reading. I say "difficult" not because of reading level, but because of subject matter and perspective, for the hero of the book is a Turkish gendarme (or guard). This isn't unlike writing a book where you attempt to make a Nazi SS camp guard the hero.

And I'd say Mustian's results are as uneven as I'd expect.

Emmett Conn is a now-American, age 92, and suffering from a brain tumor. Conveniently, because of a head trauma experienced during WWI, he actually didn't remember his life as Ahmet Khan, Turkish gendarme, before the brain tumor. (I'll note that Mustian having Conn's past experiences come back to him in sequential order isn't normal/realistic. They would come back in flashes, more like puzzle pieces that you then try to fit together into a pattern/past.)

Imagine his shock at learning that the love of his life was Araxie, a girl on the forced march. Is it too late for him to find Araxie? The last part of the book is his journey to find her, to learn what happened to her after they were forced to part. (Again, not the most realistic journey for a man of his age with a serious illness--and a section I wish had been cut from the book.)

I freely admit that I have a strong personal reaction to rape/attempted rape situations. I really wanted him to find Araxie and learn that she lived this fantastic life without him, and that she laughed at the idea of being the love of his life. I guess I'm not terribly romantic because the idea of a love match between a gendarme and one of the deportees just doesn't work for me.

I guess Mustian's success with this book is that (a) a couple of passages will likely always stay in my mind and haunt me and (b) I actually felt sorry for the elderly Conn, confused and not treated very well by his daughters, despite being horrified by some of his actions as a young man. Maybe because Conn seemed equally horrified as he remembered them. Mustian doesn't hide any of the realities of what happened during the deportation, and Conn/Khan is no better than anyone else in a position of absolute power.

My overall personal rating of The Gendarme is a B-.


StephanieD said…
I agree - this was a difficult book to read. Even so, Mustian's writing compelled me to read accounts of survivors which horrified me even more.

That was an interesting choice made by Mustian in that he cast as the protagonist someone I would ordinarily have viewed as the enemy.

Great review!

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