Writers of Disaster: Armenian Literature in the Twentieth Century, volume 1, The National Revolution

Writers of Disaster: Armenian Literature in the Twentieth Century, volume 1, The National Revolution

London: Gomidas Institute, 2002,
xii + 378 pp.,
ISBN 1-903656-09-5, paperback,
UK£24.00 / US$30.00 OUT OF STOCK
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Writers of Disaster is an ambitious undertaking by one of the foremost authorities on modern Armenian literature. Marc Nichanian, holder of the Armenian studies chair at Columbia University in New York, takes a fresh and uncompromising look at twentieth-century Armenian history and literature.
The focus of this first volume is the historical phenomenon of the Armenian national revolution—the movement of national uprising among Armenians at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century—and its literary reception in Soviet Armenia.
The volume consists of essays on four major twentieth-century Armenian authors: Yeghishé Charents, Gurgen Mahari, Zabel Esayan, and Vahan Totovents.

All four authors lived through the national revolution. For all four of them, "the national idea was a perverted and murderous one." Ironically, however, all four were condemned to death or exile precisely for nationalism, victims of Stalin's purges.

Nichanian addresses a burning question that historians and diarists have avoided for the better part of a century: "How are we to understand the link between this movement of national liberation and the extermination of the Ottoman Armenians during World War I?"

To answer this question, Nichanian turns to literature: "Do writers and poets have more to say about the national revolution and its relatedness to the Catastrophe than, say, the actors themselves or the historians, or, again, the political interpreters of the events?" Nichanian writes in his preface. "Yes, they have, but not because they are able to see the historical circumstances with more insight, or because their interpretations are more accurate. They have more to say because of the power of literature, because literature is primarily, although paradoxically, linked to the work of mourning, and is able to explore the intricacies of mourning in its possibility and, more often, its impossibility."

The book features translations of long excerpts from Charents's Requiem Æternam in Memory of Komitas and The Nayirian Dauphin; Mahari's Burning Gardens; Esayan's In the Ruins; and Totovents's New York. These literary translations, beautifully executed by G. M. Goshgarian and Ishkhan Jinbashian, are required reading for everyone with an interest in Armenian culture. That includes readers of Armenian, since the translations include passages that censors excluded from published versions of these works in Soviet Armenia.

Click here for a review by David Kazanjian.

About the Author
Marc Nichanian is associate professor in Armenian studies at Columbia University in New York. A graduate of the University of Strasbourg and the École Nationale des Langues Orientales Vivantes, he has published three volumes of Gam, a journal of literary analysis; an extensive bibliography of Hagop Oshagan; Ages et usages de la langue armenienne (1988); and French translations from Armenian (Kharkhouni) and English (Vahakn Dadrian). The present work follows from a series of seminars he held on literature and catastrophe at Columbia.

About the Translators
G.M. Goshgarian, the author of To Kiss the Chastening Rod (Cornell University Press), has translated Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida, Gérard Genette, and Jürgen Habermas into English. Some one thousand pages of his English translations of a wide range of modern Armenian authors remain unpublished. Ishkhan Jinbashian is a journalist and the author of Arkhiv Hasnoumi, a novel. His short stories have appeared in the literary journal Gam. He lives in Los Angeles.

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