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Worth a read Neither masterpiece nor particularly outstanding, yet none will bore the lover of literature. Reading them, one will always find something of value... Armenian News Network / Groong January 27, 2000 By Eddie Arnavoudian 1. Nar Tos (Mikael Der-Hovannisian, 1867- 1933) is a literary figure of some merit despite the fact that he is frequently overlooked in favour of the less accomplished Shirvanzade. Nar Tos's abilities are evident in an early short novel the 'Gentle Chords'. Characters are consistently well developed and through the unfolding plot they come to embody some of those perennial conflicts between the demands of social and family morality on the one hand and the 'free spirit' of love and lust that rest deep in the individual being on the other. A life beset by such conflicts is that of Stepanos Harounian. He is a well off, upright and decent family man, with a young daughter and a beloved. He lives an honourable but rather dull life. That is, until the arrival of Sophie, whose tantalising and sensual beauty immediately captivates him. On her part, Sophie, haughty, domineering and selfish, for the first time experiences those warmer and gentler emotions borne of genuine love. In a silently budding love, Stepanos is torn between his profound desire for Sophie and his sense of loyalty to his wife Nune and his child. He tries but fails to bury his love. In a peculiar twist, so different to the normal expectation from an evidently romantic story, Stepanos's family life is saved not by his but by Sophie's generous actions. Through her experience of love Sophie begins to comprehend other people's feelings, hopes, joys and pains. Thus she senses the pain that would be caused to Stepanos's wife by pursuing the affair with him. So she abandons her love and leaves Tbilisi. The particular resolution of the conflict is not entirely satisfactory, however. It is accomplished through individual will and strength alone. Incredibly the protagonists are not in the least influenced by what was a powerful and socially conservative religious morality that prevailed in 19th Armenian life in Tbilisi where the novel is set. Nevertheless 'Gentle Chords' touches on some truths about life. The family is saved. But none are happy, not Stepanos not Sophie and not Nune who gets wind of the affair. Nar Tos vividly and freshly conveys the reality that there apparently can be no happy resolution to the conflict between a stifling form of family life and the promise of happiness and love beyond the family. * * * * * 2. To this day 'The Golden Bracelet' by Arpiar Arpiarian (1852 - 1908) remains a pleasure to read. Ghougas, a proud Armenian typesetter in Bolis (Constantinople/Istanbul) sets off to marry his beloved step-daughter Armig. However every penny of his earnings is accounted for by the needs of everyday life. To ensure a successful wedding he must incur more debts and his wife Rose and Armig will have to take in more washing. Just as he willingly prepares to endure greater privation, for the happiness of his beloved Armig, Ghougas loses his job. He is deemed to be too old and too slow - no competition for the younger, faster setters. Confident nevertheless of finding another job Ghougas pawns Armig's prized dowry - twelve shares in the Bolis railway company - to cover the costs of preparing the wedding. But Armig's fiancee discovers that these shares are missing from the family chest. He breaks off the engagement. After all he had agreed to the marriage only for the sake of the dowry. Selling the shares would have enabled him to open a shop in one of the more desirable districts of Bolis. Around this story Arpiarian reconstructs the harsh and hard lives led by Armenian artisans in Bolis, who are treated as less than human by their employers. They are scorned and look down on by the wealthy and by the powers that be. Even the educated intelligentsia are indifferent to their plight. In a powerful scene Ghougas accosts the famous writer Yeghia Demirjibashian. He asks why no Armenian writers ever writes or speaks in praise of the humble Armenian artisan. Do they not contribute, he asks, to the Armenian nation's advance? How would the Armenian teacher teach, how would the Armenian writer publish without the labour of the Armenian typesetter? Demirjibashian appears to listen attentively and sympathetically. But Ghougas is bitterly disappointed to discover that despite his apparent agreement, Demirjibashian in his future writings totally ignores his pleas for recognition. Written in Armenian the book suffers from the overuse of Turkish words as Arpiarian thought to realistically convey local colour and dialect. Nevertheless he writes with verve and wit. He is observant and can depict the essence of a social situation by describing just one or two relevant details. The fiance's grasping, greedy, selfish character is superb; much superior to the more central Ghougas, Rose or Armig who are rather slender creations. This is however compensated for by the accurate and illuminating rendering of social environment, social relations and social psychology. * * * * * 3. 'The Rich Amuse Themselves' by Mooratzan (Kevork Der-Hovannessian, 1854 - 1908, not related to Nar Tos) is a revealing short story despite lacking depth and scope. In the account of the fate of Elena, a simple country girl abused and seduced by the wealthy and young Samuel, Mooratzan deciphers the indifference, the selfishness and the brutish hedonism of the Armenian moneyed class in pre-1914 Tbilisi. Written with passion, the pain of life corrupted and destroyed by selfishness and hypocrisy is rendered well and evocatively. The perennial human resistance to personal tragedy is caught well when in Mooratzan's depiction of one of the last scenes where Elena defiantly hurls a burning lantern at Samuel. * * * * * 4. 'The National Benefactor' by Yervant Odian (1869 - 1926) is a satirical delight. With his fluent and simple Armenian (easy to read - for those trying to learn our wonderful language) Odian shows how the wealthy never give of their own wealth when it comes to building schools, community centres, hospitals etc. They merely organise others to give their money. The wealthy only, and oh so unwillingly, fill any gaps that may remain. They nevertheless acquire the treasured public standing of a 'national benefactor' and are fawned on by the press and host of expectant parasites. As Odian remarks these benefactors remain 'honest people': they are merely applying market principles when they seek to acquire the title of national benefactor as cheaply as they possibly can. ------------------------------------------------------------------- Mr. Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in History and Politics from Manchester, England. He has written on literary and political matters for "Haratch" in Paris and "Nairi" in Beirut. His reviews have also been published in "Open Letter" in Los Angeles.