Thursday, May 28, 2015

Orhan's Inheritance

When someone mentions the Holocaust, nearly all of us automatically assume it refers to the horrific and systemic persecution and murder of the Jews during World War II. But the Armenian people suffered a similar fate in the early 1900s. On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Empire authorities rounded up, arrested, and deported approximately 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Constantinople. This began a period of genocide for minority Armenians living in their historic homeland within Ottoman Turkey as well as those who lived in other parts of the territory that is now the Republic of Turkey. The total number of people killed by the genocide is estimated to be as high as 1.5 million. The genocide, during and after World War I, was carried out in two stages: the wholesale killing or forced labor of the able-bodied male population, and the deportation of women, children, and the sick and elderly on death marches leading to the Syrian desert.

In Aline Ohanesian's wonderful debut novel, Orhan's Inheritance, Orhan, a young Turk living in modern-day Turkey, finds out about his family's dark entanglement with the Armenian people after his grandfather Kemal dies and leaves his family home to an old Armenian woman living in a nursing home in southern California. Orhan decides to travel to the U.S. to meet this stranger, find out how she is connected to his grandfather, and ask her to sign the property back over to his family. His efforts unravel family secrets that have long been buried and reveal a story of love, loss, and survival. With chapters that travel back and forth between the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the early 1990s, we get a personal look at a tragic period in history that has been neglected for far too long.

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