Arslan’s luminous debut novel tells the unbearable story of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Turkey. Ethnic Armenian Yerwant Arslanian has left his home in Anatolia to study medicine in Italy. He stays on, marries an Italian countess, and lives the life of a privileged Westerner. After forty years in exile, he at last prepares to return to his homeland and visit his beloved brother Sempad and the rest of his extended family. But just as Yerwant is about to leave on his journey, Italy joins the Great War and the borders close. Meanwhile the Turkish regime, bent on cleansing the nation of ethnic minorities, order the gendarmes to round up all Armenian men. Sempad, his wife Shushanig, their family, and friends seek refuge on Skylark Farm, the family’s country house in the hills. But Nazim, a double-dealing beggar, betrays them.
A squad of armed horsemen closes in on Skylark Farm and butchers the men and boys, while forcing the women and girls to watch. The survivors are then sent on a long death march which will end in the southern desert. By official government invitation, Kurdish tribesmen sweep down from the mountains to seize Armenian property and to rape the women and children. Sushanig and her daughters are brutalised and left to die of hunger and disease. Any Turk who helps an Armenian will be punished by death.
Horrified by his deed, Nazim, the betrayer, now seeks to redeem himself in a race against time to save Sushanig and her remaining children.
Arslan does not stint in exposing the carnage, yet there is nothing gratuitous here. Writing about the lives of lost family members she never knew, she gives dignity to the dead and immortalises a tragedy that must never be forgotten. Heartbreaking and highly recommended.