The Gendarme
Mark T. Mustian
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Buy *The Gendarme* by Mark T. Mustian online

The Gendarme
Mark T. Mustian
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
304 pages
September 2010
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Mustianís provocative tale offers a unique interpretation of the horrors of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Ninety-two-year-old Ahmet Kahn recollects his pivotal role in the wholesale massacre, deportation and forced marches of the Armenian Turks; between one and one and a half million people were eventually slaughtered. For over half of his life, Ahmet has been a silent witness about his role as a loyal gendarme in the Ottoman army. But Ahmet's memories and recollections of this time in his life are as shady as they are confusing.

A dutiful soldier who survived both war and injury, Ahmet remembers the long illness of his wife, Carol, during which he held strong to his sense of duty and obligation. But now other dreams are coming in colors brilliant and vibrant. With startling veracity, Ahmet remembers Araxie, a young Armenian girl who appeared long ago and stood seductively under a eucalyptus tree as the moonlight fell onto her shoulders, the gleam in her mismatched eyes so beguiling.

Ahmet is sympathetic to Araxie and the solemn Armenian deportees. His colleagues however, are far from humane, mostly intent to poke, prod, then murder their prisoners as their captives stand by the sides of dusty dirt roads. These visions that fill the pages of Mustian's absorbing tale. There's the terror of Ahmet's harsh trek to the Syrian town of Aleppo with its hot sun and dry terrain, the gendarmes fanatically searching for water. There are also horrific images of dysentery, the tongues of the deportees gray and black, their bodies smeared with mud, filth, and excrement.

A stark, brutal testament to the horrors of genocide, Mustian's sharp-edged yet eloquent prose defines Ahmetís journey as he stubbornly gropes for something to hold onto. Now an old man living Wadesboro, Ahmet is at first flawed then resigned when he gets the news of what looks to be a malignant brain tumor. His two daughters, Violet and Lissette, can offer only a passing consolation. Clearly Ahmet doesnít want to be a burden even as he aches for the company of his grandson, the only member of his family who truly understands him.

Race, division and circumstance are powerful in this novel. The tumor advances and Ahmet's dreams get worse, despite the radiation treatment that is reluctantly foisted on him by the distant Violet. Past images of simple power appear: Ahmet wandering through Aleppoís outskirts, a deserter with no papers. Dazed and sweating, submersed in the heat, he finds work in a knifemakerís shop while he desperately searches for Araxie late into the night.

In a tale that begins with innocent intent then escalates into a search for a much larger form of retribution, Mustian details Ahmet's life with great power as his flawed protagonist begins to lose faith in everything around him. The author presents Ahmet's suffering, cruelty and bravery in all of their glory without moral judgment. A powerful symbol for the continued disavowal of the Armenian genocide, the lessons of this novel are clear: one must put denial and silence aside and hopefully embrace the language of forgiveness with brand-new clarity.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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