ARMENIAN HISTORY AND FOOD

Armenian cookbook

I don’t usually do book reviews on this site. However, in my research for my eventual historical fiction about Armenians and their immigration to America during and following the 1915 genocide in Turkey, I came across a marvelous book that is part Armenian history and part cookbook. As the author points out: “The history of the Armenian people is written, in part, through our culinary creativity with locally found ingredients.”

Home Again: Armenian Recipes from the Ottoman Empire, by Mari A Firkatian, is a fascinating blend of food and history. The back cover tells us:

“Preserving the past in recipes and memories, Home Again turns the reader’s gaze to Armenian culinary traditions. A land at the crossroads of great empires and nomadic hordes, Armenia’s cuisine offers a tantalizing melding of the rich variety of Mediterranean produce and Eastern spices. The culinary lexicon of Armenia stands as a testament to the survival of a people over the centuries…. The author transports both the novice and experienced cook to Armenian kitchens across the former Ottoman Empire….”

Generations of Armenians linked themselves directly to the most god-fearing man mentioned in the Bible, Noah, who many Armenians consider to be their progenitor. “Not only did Noah find dry land on the slopes of Mt. Ararat, but he also planted the first vineyard there; drinking Armenian wine is to savor a gift from the hands of Noah. Hayk, the great-great-great grandson of Noah, established the nation in the region of Mt. Ararat.” Armenia’s wines, sometimes using the unique native varietals, are making a comeback that is promising to produce some magnificent vintages.

In 301 AD Armenia became the first nation to convert to Christianity.
Beginning in 1915, 1.5 million of the 2 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey—a staggering 75%–were killed.

“The killing of so many Armenians dealt a near death blow to a noble, ancient culture. If we consider not only the dead, but their stolen properties, all the unborn generations and millions of dollars of wealth stripped from the victims, then we can see the scope of this heinous crime.”

Survivors escaped and sought shelter in nearby countries. Most thought they would return to their homeland when things settled down. “With that in mind, in 1923, when…” the author’s… “family fled one final time, they headed to Gemelik, a port town, with 14 cans of olive oil. With oil as their currency, they bought passage to Greece.”

Meanwhile, back in Turkey, the official Turkish policy was to wipe the Armenian presence literally and figuratively from history.

But they couldn’t erase the culinary memory.

Much of the first third of the book is this history and a memoir, followed by a discussion of Armenian culinary traditions. And then come the recipes, beginning with appetizers.

I will leave you with one of two Hummus recipes to whet your appetite for this fascinating and delightful book!

Smooth Hummus
2 c cooked chickpeas
4 cloves garlic, mashed, with salt
1T tahini
1 lemon, juiced
Extra virgin olive oil

Blend the chickpeas with a little of the cooking liquid in a food processor.
Add as much of the cooking liquid needed to make a smooth, creamy texture.
Add garlic and salt to taste.
Add lemon juice.
Add tahini and a thin stream of extra virgin olive oil to make a smooth consistency.
Serve in a shallow dish drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, parsley to garnish, sprinkled with paprika or oregano.

Hamu naye—inch hamov e, che?
Taste this—isn’t it just the best you ever tasted?

Posted in Blogs, Book Reviews, Books, Cookbooks, family, Genocide, Immigrants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

ARMENIAN FAIRYTALES

Tree topperShnor-ha-vor (soorp) dzu-noont! 
Merry Christmas!

During a visit with one of the Armenian women who was kind enough to let me interview her for my historical fiction, she shared a delightful find with me (actually, a few delightful finds, but first things first): her copy of The Gurabia Man, by Talene Dadian White. It’s an Armenian version of The Gingerbread Man, sprinkled with Armenian words and with a glossary and other resources at the back of the book.

Gurabia Man -- English version
What a delight! I thought immediately of my great-nephew, who will turn 3 next March, and new great-niece, who will have her first birthday in February. They have the Essegian name but are three generations removed from the last 100% Armenian Essegian in our family. I consider it my job to help them maintain their Armenian connection, however small that may be.

I rushed home from the interview and went straight to my computer and Amazon. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Armenian versions of FIVE beloved fairytales—all in English with some Armenian words AND a few almost totally in Armenian!
Gurabia Man - Armenian version
I couldn’t have been happier if I’d struck gold! (Okay, so that’s a little exaggeration—call it literary license.) I ordered four (English sprinkled with Armenian) of the five. Jack in the Beanstalk was sold out.

I decided I’d send two (Gurabia Man and Goldilocks and the Three Bears) for this Christmas and the others at a later time. The books arrived a few days later, along with the cookie cutters I’d ordered: a gingerbread man, a pig, a dog, a donkey and a fox to go with the Gingerbread Man story, and three bears of different sizes and a girl for the Goldilocks book. I tweaked a Gurabia recipe to be able to roll the dough for cutouts. After making the cookies and decorating them (pistachios for eyes, dried apricot pieces for buttons on the Gurabia Man, raisins for eyes for the bears, and apricot pieces for eyes on the girl), I actually bubble-wrapped each cookie individually to keep them intact when they were mailed to my nephew and niece in Florida, along with a message to freeze the cookies to keep them fresh until Christmas. My nephew, father of the two young children, texted me thanks and how his 3-year-old was really into books (even “reading” some to his mom or dad at bedtime)! The cookies went directly into the freezer to be opened with the books on Christmas.

As our Armenian blood becomes more diluted with successive generations, I believe it is important to keep those generations in touch with their roots. Our ancestors suffered much, and sacrificed almost as much, leaving their beloved homes to flee to another country, giving their children and future generations a chance to survive and thrive.

Our heritage is rich and must not be forgotten.

Shnor-ha-vor nor da-ree!
Happy New Year!

Posted in Armenians, Blogs, Books, Fairy Tales, family, historical fiction, Immigrants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

HOW LONG IS TOO LONG FOR HISTORICAL FICTION?

DSC01040 (4)

This stained glass window photo is from the church I attended as a child and remained a member until it closed in 2011. Revisiting the church a little over a year ago started me on this journey–to write about the church and the people, their struggles, tragedies and triumphs.

I’m staring at the collection of research what will be a historical fiction about Armenians—two file boxes full plus a two-foot pile of books and a loose pile of miscellaneous resources. I’m excited about the collection, but also daunted by the work that will be needed to pull out the gems that will both do justice to history and keep a reader reading. My research spans 120 years. Modern day attention spans are measured in nanoseconds.

War and Peace was 13,095 pages in 10 volumes. That was the longest I could find. But it doesn’t take a Mensa member to recognize that a book that long will not sell well in the 21st century. And I’d probably be dead before it was finished anyway.

The historical fiction I’m currently reading spans 32 years. The one before that covered about 10 years. Pillars of the Earth covered 50 years. Gone With the Wind followed the characters through the American Civil War and into reconstruction—probably 10-15 years tops. Recently I’ve read a few books that span several decades but connect past to present with multi-year gaps.

But 120 years?

I suppose it could be a multi-book historical story. It would be tricky and would have to track back and forth in time to show connections between the immigrants and first, second and third generation family members. AND the characters and their stories would need to be particularly compelling. ALL of them.

I could limit the story that is in my head across 60-70 years. That’s still long. But possibly doable. The tricky part would be ensuring that critical story lines aren’t shortchanged.

What would you do?

Posted in Armenians, Books, Church, Fiction, historical fiction, Immigrants, research, survival, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

ARMENIA 100+ YEARS AGO

PA-REV-NER!

GREETINGS!

It’s a literary gift of gold! Thanks to my friend Roger, I learned of this resource for understanding life in AArmenians in Turkey 100 Years Agormenia prior to the 1915 genocide. I have only just begun my study of what it offers. The book is not merely an album of postcards. Detailed information about each postcard is provided: information about the image, whether it was posted or not and by whom. It also shares texts about Armenians of each vilayet, including information about the role played by Armenians in the economical, social and cultural life of the settlements in which they lived, the industrial and commercial branches in which they were concentrated, their quarters, churches, monasteries and schools, as well as demographical data.

I’ve mentioned before that my family came from Harput (also known as Harpoot, Kharpouth and Kharpert). Here is a peek at two of the postcards of the village. Kharpouth was a prosperous village along the primary trade route in the area. The first photo shows the village on the hill, and the second shows a group of tanners.

Education was valued by Armenians. The villages that could afford to do so provided eduction for both boys and girls:

Anatolia Girls' School (2)

As I pursue my goal of creating a historical fiction that accurately reflects the lives of the story’s characters, I’m confident that this resource, combined with the many others I’ve collected, will help make our ancestors come alive on the pages.

Gu des-nu-veenk no-ren!

I’ll see you again!

Posted in Armenians, Genocide, historical fiction, History, Immigrants | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

NETGALLEY FEATURES THE EYES HAVE IT!

Finished-Ebook image

I’m thrilled to announce that my novel, THE EYES HAVE IT,  is a themed-week feature book in the Romance category on NetGalley from 11/11/19-11/17/19!

If you are unfamiliar with NetGalley, it is a site where book reviewers and other professional readers can read books before they are published, in e-galley or digital galley form. Members register for free and can request review copies or be invited to review by the publisher.

For a description of the book, simply click on the link, then click on the book cover to go to a synopsis.

You also can read an excerpt of the book by going to my book pages at Barnes & Noble or Amazon and look inside the book! A number of readers have already left very positive (mostly 5 star!) reviews on Amazon!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

THE EYES HAVE IT: WEEK 4 ON MARKET

Finished-Ebook imageToday marks four weeks since the release of The Eyes Have It It has been an eventful month, contacting local bookstores and libraries, running book giveaway contests and soliciting reviews, following up on promotional leads from the publisher, etc. Feedback has been positive and I have other activities lined up or in the planning process.

The first review came in time for inclusion on the back cover of the paperback:

With her new novel, Dawn Lajeunesse proves she understands the human heart as well as any writer working today, and she knows how to make a reader’s heart thump hard—with anticipation, with sorrow, with fear and with joy. The Eyes Have It is an intelligent, poignant, rewarding experience.” Mark Spencer, author of A Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of the Allen House.

I’ve received four reviews on Amazon so far, mostly 5-star and one 4-star. Word of mouth is the best marketing tool!

And yesterday, I received my  Kirkus Review – too long to include it all, but here are the high points:

“Lajeunesse constructs a powder keg of family secrets, featuring plenty of dramatic irony…. Olivia remains a vulnerable and realistic heroine throughout, and Lajeunesse pays close attention to her emotional oscillations between yearning and disappointment.
A fiery family drama. . . .” Kirkus Reviews

So far, so good.

Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll continue to feed and water this seedling. Meanwhile, my research and interviews for my Armenian story plods forward!

Posted in Armenians, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, romance, The Eyes Have It | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CELEBRATING OUR ARMENIAN HERITAGE

Pa-ree lo’o ees!
Good Morning!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending time with my extended Armenian family in the Boston area. My local cousin, my sister and her spouse, and I joined with cousins for an Essegian/Mahakian reunion and a weekend of activities – and of course, eating!
We arrived Thursday afternoon and celebrated the much-anticipated weekend with some Armenian wine, compliments of cousin Lorraine.
Lorraine-Dawn-Donna
Our cousin Ira volunteered to chauffer us around, since we plebian upstate NYS drivers dreaded driving around Boston.

First stop was the Genocide Memorial in downtown Boston – beautiful and peaceful:

After also wandering around Quincy Market and the wharf area, we headed to Ani’s in Belmont for its authentic Armenian food in a casual setting. It lived up to its reputation!

More than once in our wanderings we remarked on our gratitude that Ira was driving – not just in downtown Boston but the entire surrounding area!

Saturday we headed for the Armenian Museum in Watertown. I’ve included several photos from the museum in past posts. There were some items I either missed the first time or had been added, most notably this phenomenal needlework using silkworm cocoons! In old Armenia, many of the villages were along the famed Silk Road, heavily trafficked by merchants traveling between the Orient and the western countries. My family, from Kharpert, lived in one of the busiest trading areas.
Cocoon embroidery - Museum
From the museum we headed to the home of cousin Bobby and his delightful (and talented) children, Amy and Robert. Everyone brought a contribution for the dinner, but the bulk of the feast was created by Bob and his girlfriend, Allison. All I can say is, OINK – it was wonderful! But at least as wonderful was seeing cousins we hadn’t seen in years and some who hadn’t been born the last time we were all together. We failed at our intent to take a group photo, so I will just include a couple of memorable pics of our family elder and source of many family stories, John, with his beloved Alicia and Mike, and niece/nephew Amy and Michael. Amy, a classically trained soprano, graced us with a sampling of her favorite pieces. Breathtaking!

Late to the party were Ira’s wife, Diane with children (Lauren and husband Jorge) and grandchildren (Elizabeth and Ryan), who were at Ryan’s soccer game.

It was such a joy to connect with the cousins, who had been such a huge part of our early family life.

Har-kank-ne’-rus po-lo-reen!
My regards to all!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment