Date finished: 3/5/12
How I found this book: I recently met a graduate student from Armenia and asked him to recommend a book for Armenia. This was his suggestion.
The lesson from this book may be that I shouldn’t blindly follow book recommendations from near strangers. Not that the book was bad, but I was disappointed to find that although the author (apparently a famous film director) was of Armenian origin, the entire book actually takes place in France. The book is an autobiography, telling the story of Verneuil’s childhood in France as a refugee from the Armenian genocide. Mayrig means “mother” in Armenian and much of the book’s focus is on the idolized parents and aunts who raised him.
A lot of the book reflects experiences common to many immigrants. The family was initially quite poor, but the parents and aunts worked incredibly hard to provide for the son and give him the opportunity for a good education. They encountered many people who were biased against immigrants, but many kind people as well. Particularly memorable was the income tax official who helped them to categorize their family in such a way that their income was below taxable levels.
I did learn a few interesting things about Armenian culture. One of my favorite images from the book was the description of the family gathered around making baklava. Each sheet of pastry would be rolled as thin as possible with a rolling pin, but apparently it isn’t possibly to get it thin enough that way. So after rolling, the father, mother and aunts would each take a side and together they would carefully pull and stretch the dough until it was incredibly thin. They would do this over and over again until they formed the fifty-plus layers needed to make the baklava.
I was interested to learn that Armenia has its own church that originated in the 1st-3rd century A.D. and also its own unique alphabet. (Of interest to exactly one reader of this blog- the Armenian alphabet uses a lot of ligatures). The book didn’t give too much detail, but Wikipedia is my friend. The Armenian Apostolic Church was apparently the first instance of Christianity being an official state religion. At first I assumed that it was related to the Eastern Orthodox church (this and Catholicism being the only two strains of pre-Protestant Christianity that I was familiar with), but apparently it falls instead under the category of Oriental Orthodoxy. As best I can tell, Oriental Orthodoxy split off because they say that Jesus was “of or from two natures”, while the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox argue that Jesus was “in two natures”. That seemed like a pretty trivial difference to me and surprisingly the churches now actually seem to think so too. They signed a document with Pope John Paul II in 1984, only 14 centuries after the schism, agreeing that the whole thing was really just semantics and it turns out they agree after all!