Orhan’s Inheritance

Written by Aline Ohanesian
Review by Judith Starkston

“And if he is Turkish, what does that mean? Is he the prodigal son of a democratic republic or a descendant of genocide perpetrators? Maybe he is all of those things and none of them.” So the main character of Orhan’s Inheritance ponders, after he digests the long-concealed secrets of his family dating back to WWI and those of a mysterious woman whose life is inextricably bound with his.

Orhan’s Inheritance moves between 1990 and 1915, interweaving Armenian and Turkish history through the eyes of both sides in a moving way. Ohanesian’s characters draw us in, fully fleshed and vividly alive. In modern Turkey, the mass slaughter and deportation of the Armenians is a taboo subject—even illegal to discuss. On the other hand, the Armenian people have dedicated themselves to active remembrance of the tragedy. Ohanesian’s sensitive treatment balances the two possible downfalls of these differing single-minded approaches, and transcends them with her effective and compelling storytelling. She doesn’t allow her characters to deny the past, nor does she allow them to become “soaked and mired in [the past’s] bitter liquid.” This is a grim tale, but also a humane and ultimately hopeful one.