Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.
A Story from the Armenian Massacre
By MARK LARDAS
August 16 2020
“Silent Angel, A Novella” by Antonia Arslan, Ignatius Press, 2020, 136 pages, $14.95 (paperback)
The Homilary of Moush is an illuminated manuscript dating from the early twelfth century. It is the largest surviving Armenian religious manuscript. A massive work, it weigha over 60 pounds (28 kg). It survived destruction during the Armenian genocide.
“Silent Angel,” by Antonia Arslan is a fictionalized account of its preservation, recounting how it was found after the destruction of its long-time home in the Sourp Arakelots Vank (Holy Apostles Monastery) in Moush and spirited to safety
The novella opens in 1915. The Turkish army, retreating before the Russians, is passing through the Valley of Moush in eastern Anatolia. It is largely inhabited by Christian Armenians, anathema to the Muslim Turks.
Markarios the Greek, one of two Greeks in a village in that valley, is a handyman. The other Greek is Eleni, the town’s midwife. She is a childhood friend who drifted into the village independently from Markarios. New of the retreating Turks leave Markarious uneasy. He convinces Eleni to flee with him before they arrive.
Anoush and Kohar are Armenian women born the village. They close friends. Anoush is married with three children. Kohar is engaged to a carpenter. They end a day spent preparing vegetables for winter with a swim in a nearby river. Turkish soldiers march by as they finish their swim. Forced to hide they spend the night outside their village.
The next morning Markarious’s fears are realized. The women discover the villagers have been massacred. Anoush’s family is dead. The sole survivor is a neighbor’s child who hid during the massacre. They take the child and flee, encountering Markarios and Eleni.
Joining forces, the five go to the monastery. It, too, was sacked. They discover the Homilary, hidden by a monk, killed preserving it. The five take it with them to preserve it. Due to its weight Anoush and Kohar split it, each carrying half.
The rest of the story follows their struggles crossing the Valley of Moush. By accepting the task of saving the book, they transform their journey from mere flight to a holy journey. They no longer are mere refugees. Their flight has a greater purpose.
“Silent Angel” is based on actual events. The characters in it are fictional, but they stand in for a real set of heroes and heroines, who sacrificed to bring a holy relic to safety. A gripping tale, it illustrates how nobility can spring from humble roots.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.