Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review: The Gendarme

The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian
Putnam Adult (2010), Hardcover, 304 pages

A woman with ‘mismatched eyes, one dark, the other light’ and a man following these eyes for almost one hundred years. Meantime history follows its path changing the life of these two people. In all these events memory plays one of its best game: memories. dreams, yesterday, today are playing in a turbulent back and forth.
Emmett Conn is a ninety-two-year-old man, ex-gendarme, when he was young he escorted Armenians from Turkey before the World War I. During this perilous journey he met Araxie.

The book starts with a question: ‘Ninety-two years have passed - for what? For what?’ (p.5) And after this question follow several dreams of an old man, or are these dreams only memories?
Emmett and Araxie met the first time as in a dream, without contact: ‘What is your name? She does not respond, or if she does, her name is lost in the leaves.’ (p.12)
As Atom Egoyan has written in advance praise for The Gendarme: ‘Ahmet Khan’s spiritual transition to Emmett Cann is emotionally resonant’; I’d say also Emmett's transition to Ahmet. At the end of the book Ahmet and Emmett become one person, the ends of all stories become just one end.

After Ahmet becomes Emmett in America and the old man what happened? Why did Emmett choose Carol instead of rescuing Araxie? Could the following be some of the answers?
‘Race and division and circumstance - these surmountable, all! ... I should speak, I should offer support for rebirth, transformation, but instead I am frozen, my tongue stilled and thick. What is my direction? My offer? ... I could blame the heavens, blame fate or luck or inheritance, but it is all to no gain. My shame is boundless, my guilt so heavy it overweight even truth!’ (p. 198)
‘I am from Turkey. I fought in the war. I was injured, then rescued. An immigrant. A father ... I was a gendarme, a ... murderer. That this is my shame.’ (p. 208)
Could shame affect a whole life? Maybe not, there is an answer at the end: ‘Things weave in and out. I am there, I am here. At the end the past is so great it intrudes like an army!’ (p. 274)
The past could be dangerous, but it’s great.

Until the last chapters I had many doubts about The Gendarme: Is this book too ‘cold’? I mean, written as a lecture about elderly people and old history.
Although the passages from one story (old Emmett) to another (young Ahmet) seems to be relief of the pain of remembering or dreaming; I preferred the narration of the old Emmett: point of view of an old man like a camera that watches, records, and discarded.
Mustian telling the deportation’s story on Turkey border is lacking of ‘spice’: the deportation is narrated as a summary from history books, so I would have preferred the smell of horses, carpets full of sand, sounds of small bells from running horses, shouting, etc.

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