I am a real sucker for any book that has more than one story going on at the same time, with both stories connecting and/or resolving themselves at the end. “The Gendarme” did an amazing job of moving back and forth between two different time periods in the main character’s life. The author was able to weave in and out of the two stories, as easily as a snake glides through grass. There was not a single moment that I felt lost; I can sometimes have a hard time with the back and forth if the transitions are not well done.
Alongside the author’s ability to transition seamlessly between time, this story is unique for it’s secondary plot revolves around the Armenian genocide. Although the book doesn’t center directly on the atrocities done, for “gendarme” was the term used for soldiers escorting the Armenians out of Turkey into other parts of the Ottoman Empire, it does give you some insight to what was occurring. Very similar to the sort of forced relocation of the Native Americans during the Trail of Tears, the Armenians had to travel on foot for hundreds of miles from Turkey to places like Syria. Many died on the way, faced starvation, illness, violence, and rape. It was very rare for an Armenian man to remain alive given that the Turks had convinced everyone that the Armenians were a threat due to their ties to Russia. Most of these groups being led by Turkish soldiers ended up being women and children. You can imagine what the women faced at the hands of the gendarme.
As much as I enjoyed this book, I wish that the story had gone more into details about what was truly going on during these death marches. Although the author did give some insight to the violence surrounding this forced relocation of the Armenians, I felt that the author didn’t do it justice. I realize that the author was trying to show that the individuals [gendarmes] involved in this genocide, like other genocides, don’t necessarily realize the full gravity of their actions. Particularly when this hatred of Armenians within Turkey had been going on for generations, and the genocide was rationalized as necessary since it was a time of war. However, the development of the main character should not have taken away from revealing the true horrendous nature of these death marches.
That is my biggest critic of this book. It doesn’t mean I don’t recommend this book, because given it’s unique story line, it is well worth the read. Not enough contemporary fiction books are written on such “taboo” topics; I do applaud the author. However, as a reader, one must realize that it was a truly horrific and violent genocide that occurred against the Armenians, and not just some sort of forced relocation with minor casualties. In addition, given that this is not necessarily a well known topic, and may be the first time a lot of readers learn about the Armenian genocide, I want it to be known that it was MUCH worse than what is described in the book.