ACOM Book Club News - March 2018

acom book club banner 2018The ACOM Book Club met on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at Francis Bulbulian's house. Attendees this month were Azad, Karen, Joe, Judy, Francis, Natasha, Andrea, Dana and me. Unfortunately, Barb wasn't feeling well so she didn't sit in with us. This month's book was "The Spice Box Letters" by Eve Makis.

I made an audio recording of the meeting, transcribed it, and edited it down for this message. It will be a little bit longer than usual, but I'll try to remove as much "fluff" as possible to make it more readable.

Azad recommended that the club read "Mayrig". We talked about reading "Hummus and Homicide" for May, maybe "Mayrig" for June.

ACOM Book Club March 2018

The "Mayrig" film is only available in French without subtitles. Natasha reported that Nairy has a copy of it in French and that Peka's mom loves it.

Next month's meeting will be at Azad's house in St. Peter on Saturday, April 21st at 2:00 PM. The book for April will be "One Mighty Tree" by Azad.

Natasha commented on the quality of the cover of Azad's book. She wants to know the name of the publisher.

Francis got his copy of "The Spice Box Letters" the afternoon of the meeting, started reading it and couldn't put it down.

Dana liked "The Spice Box Letters". She thought that it was a mild enough book that it could be read in high school.

Natasha didn't like the print font in her copy. She said that it made it hard to read. She liked the jumping back and forth in time, but wished that there was more labeling of when each block was. The way the whole thing fell into place at the end wasn't quite right. She like Gabriel's quote "The past is not like the water in a toilet bowl, it cannot be flushed away, it's like a septic tank, rancid ...". She thought that the book was a little lighter for a genocide book.

Andrea agreed with the lighter coverage. She thought that it was a lovely book. She had tears in her eyes many times. She particularly liked Gabriel. He was tough and crusty, but warmhearted. Was a good book even though not written by an Armenian. The author was Greek. If she had had more time she wanted to read about the history of Armenians in Cyprus. As a genocide book, this one was more palatable.

Francis got the book at 4:30 that afternoon. Got home and started reading and got about a third of the book read. He got a large print edition. He loved the writing, so flowery and elegant. He didn't mind the back-and-forth in this book. The way that the author wove things and came back and connected events was good. He thought that the characters were well developed.

Judy liked the book. She has a strong interest in Armenian genealogy and liked the idea of searching for family. She's still searching for one of her ancestors who may have survived. There are not that many books about Armenians in Cyprus and she liked that. She thought that the experience in California was a little contrived, and that Gabriel traveling at such an advanced age wasn't likely and didn't really add to the story. She liked how it all came together.

The previous week she was at the Tucson book festival and went to see Chris Bohjalian twice. He said again how important it was to him to write "The Sandcastle Girls".

Andrea commented that Chris B. was the voice of Laura in Sandcastle. Judy agreed that he talked about that and the question "Can men write in a woman's voice?". Another author said that he had 4 daughters and a wife and his house is overflowing with estrogen so he definitely can write from a woman's point of view.

Joe liked the book and said that this would be the book that he would give to non-Armenian friends to learn about the genocide since the main story line wasn't the genocide. The idea of two members of a family surviving was a little hard to believe, but it made for a great story. One part he didn't understand was in the middle where Gabriel had Turkish friends that he missed. That surprised him. When he was with the Greeks, he'd rather be with the Turks. Francis talked about Iranian friends, how friendships survive. I talked about how before the genocide the Armenians many times allied themselves with the Turks against the Greeks because the Greeks wouldn't accept Armenians unless they converted to the Greek Orthodox Church.

Joe liked the writing and the ending. I commented on how when I lent my copy to one of my sisters, she loved the book and gave it to another sister to read.

Azad read the book twice. He doesn't like fiction and thought that the writing was too flowery, so the second time he read it he skipped the flowery parts and he liked it better. The story was beautiful. In his opinion, though, a fifteen year old boy and girl in the old days would not have had sex. They wouldn't have the chance to. The way that they lived in the old country they were much more protected. Other people disagreed. Azad said that maybe the genocide matured her. He thought that the ending was just too much that it all came together. He didn't like the extended sections of flowery speech between the actual content.

Karen liked the story and thought that it was one of the better books about the genocide. It was told in a nice way, but a little confusing with the back and forth. She enjoyed it and, as an odar, she understood the resistance to marrying an odar. She experienced the same resistance from Azad's parents. After the wedding, though, they treated her well and accepted her.

Francis when he picked up the book liked it so much that he felt that he had to convince Judy to read the book, and then she showed up for the meeting having already read it.

I saw the book on Goodreads and noted that everyone gave it 5 stars. I got the book and loved it. My sister also loved it. It was easy to read.

Francis compared it to "4 Years in the Mountains of Kurdistan" as being easy to read.

Andrea thought that Francis and Azad might have been bored with the descriptions since they grew up in Iran and Syria, whereas she was mesmerized by the descriptions. Azad said that his area was not very beautiful, was dry and rocky. Scenery never appealed to him.

Judy's ancestors were from the same area as the people in the book. She described her great-grandmother (?) as a young girl listening to the police next door talking about what was going to happen. She later wrote beautiful notes about life before the genocide. Judy didn't think it was unreasonable for two members of a family to survive.

Andrea referred to the number of people in the book who were badly injured, but survived with no apparent effects and thought that that was unlikely.

Natasha was a little off about everything coming together in two weeks. The idea of an idyllic childhood seemed similar to "Roots" to her. The sense of home struck her.

Andrea thought that the idea of serendipity was important. Her grandfather got out of Turkey in 1913 to go to Macalaster and lost all of his family. When he was an old man, he was walking down the street in St. Paul and saw a childhood friend who he last saw before leaving Turkey.

Francis talked about "Silences", the chances of finding a job, finding her uncle, and escaping that way. Joe agreed that it can happen, but that there was too much of it in this book. I commented on many books that combine many stories into one in order to tell the story. Andrea liked that the good feelings from the book were worth it.

Azad can't remember much of his childhood, but has a friend that he writes to to help him remember people. He was at the Matadataran and met a classmate from when he was growing up. America was a new start for him and he wanted to forget everything from before. Francis noted that when his brother died he could no longer depend on him to help fill out his memories. Azad's said that his brother was much older so they didn't have a similar relationship. Azad came to the U.S. when he was 20. What he remembers from his youth is stuff that marked him, such as a Muslim high school teacher who always told him that he would fail him. Hid Arabic grammar was very good, but he couldn't keep word gender straight. Those things he remembers, but not others.

Francis said that when he entered the U.S. it was so exciting to learn all of the new things, but he lost some of his ability to speak other languages because he didn't use them.

Andrea has been searching the web for things about her grandfather's life. Francis is also searching.

Azad referred to a visitor to the Twin Cities who was also from Caesarea. That person's family had helped the Turks so much that he was warned to get out before the genocide. Francis had a similar story for his family. Azad said that some people were saved because they were working with the missionaries.

Francis had a cousin in Europe who got letters from family in Armenia. He has learned many things about his family from those letters. I referred to an aunt's recording from which I had learned a lot about my father.

Joe's grandmother didn't talk about her genocide experience until her 80s.

Natasha's grandmother told her kids that she was born in Russia and grew up in San Francisco. This was totally wrong, she was from Alaska but kept that hidden. Her father never knew who he was until in his 70s.

Dana thought that the current generation is more likely to talk about things.

Andrea talked about the show "Weapons of the Spirit" on PBS. It was about a Huguenot town high up in the mountains where the people rescued Jews from the Nazis. The show talked about a man who discovered that he was born in that town. The show might be available on

We took a pie break - french silk. I mentioned that it was the day after Pie Day, and mentioned the four holiday sequence, Pie Day, the Ides of March, St. Urho's Day, St. Patrick's Day.

Andrea suggested that sometime we invite the remote members of the club to attend a meeting.

Judy mentioned the questions at the back of the book. One of them is "Do any of you have something that your ancestors brought from the old country?"

Francis - a rug. Andrea - a photograph of her grandfather's sister on a metal plate. Azad - one picture of his grandfather, and a rug, and his grandfather's bible in Turkish language in Armenian script. There was a discussion of various churches in Armenia, and languages used for the services. Dana - nothing. Natasha - a picture of her grandmother. When she visited Aleutian Islands she was told her family history. She was at Kodiak and her grandmother's uncle was the first priest there. Joe teased Natasha by projecting the Spice Box story onto Natasha's family. Natasha mentioned a family connection to St. Innocent of the Russian Orthodox Church, which leads priests to touch her to obtain a blessing.

Joe - has letters from Armenia. He has a picture of his grandmother and his daughter looks just like her. Judy has a picture of her great grandfather and he looks just like her son.

Karen - she has ancestry records dating back many generations in Norway & England and has many artifacts, so she feels very lucky compared to Azad and other Armenians.

Leroy - The only things that my family have are an old trunk that may have come from Sweden and maybe an old flat iron.

Judy - grandfather escaped in 1912. On his Ellis Island entry he listed his occupation as iron man. She has a set of scissors that he made, which were carpet trimming scissors. Judy will donate her scissors to the Armenian Museum in Watertown, MA.

Azad referred to a church that had a special room for artifacts.

Judy said that her family talked openly about their history. She plans on writing a book incorporating her family history.

Karen - every writer of fiction writes about something that they know. Her daughter writes fiction which incorporates her life experiences.

With that, our discussion ended. The planned books for the following months are:

April - "One Might Tree" by Azad Mesrobian.

May - "Hummus and Homicide" by Tina Kashian.

June - "Mayrig" by Henri Verneuil.

July & August - summer break.

September - "Arshiel Gorky His Life and Works" by Haydn Herrera.

October - "Archaeology of Madness" by Rita Soulahian Kuyumjian.

At last, I bid you adieu. I hope to see you all at Azad's house in St. Peter on April 21st.


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