Armenian News Network / Groong

The Critical Corner - 05/27/2013


REVIEW OF AGOP J. HACIKYAN'S "THE LAMPPOST DIARY"

Armenian News Network / Groong
May 27, 2013

by Christopher Atamian

 
Best known for his precious anthology of modern Armenian literature
and for his first well-received novel "A Summer Wihtout Dawn", Agop
Hacikyan has just published a touching if uneven novel titled The
Lamppost Diary.  Set in Istanbul during and immediately following
World War II, the story recounts the life of young Thomas, a
perpetually randy Bolsahai who spends much of his time dreaming,
courting and winning over a beautiful young Russian girl by the name
of Anya. The Lamppost Diary is of interest mainly because of its
descriptions of life in post-1915 Istanbul in the Nišantasi
neighborhood among the Christian and Jewish minorities. It is a
difficult life still-one where non-Muslims are constantly wary of
discrimination both subtle and overt.  Most notably, Hacikyan
describes the effects of the infamous Varlik Vergisi of 1942 when the
Turkish government imposed severe taxes on Jews, Armenians and Greeks
and Levantines, effectively ruining most of the remaining Christian
and Jewish fortunes in Turkey.  Unable to pay such exorbitant fines,
these businessmen were sent to the Askale labor camp where they either
perished or returned old and physically broken down.  As might be
expected, many minorities fled Turkey once again in light of these
events. The description of venal and cruel Turkish authorities, as
well as that of Thomas' equally opportunistic Armenian compatriots is
as fun as it is sometimes stomach-turning.
 
Hacikyan's Thomas sometimes appears almost preternaturally gifted - a
Valentino with the fair sex, a gifted student who is also the Turkish
track record holder at 10,000 meters, as well as a budding literateur
who starts his own magazine while still in his early twenties.
Eventually Anya leaves for America to study medicine at Johns Hopkins,
where Thomas eventually joins her -love wins out, as we know it will
from their opening courtship.

This touching love story as well as the precious descriptions the
post-Catastrophic Bolsahai community are unfortunately offset by the
novel's faults, which are many.  First and foremost is the almost
obsessive attention that the author seems to attach to long drawn-out
descriptions of the young Thomas's circumcision (unusual for a
Christian), as well as the boy's near obsession with his penis or
bouboulik as his mother calls it, and his visit to local brothels, all
of this related in a semi-comical tone which never quite hits home.

There are also simply too many and otherwise awkward sentences,
strained grammatical constructions, baroque adjectival usage and mixed
metaphors of an impeachable nature, that mar an otherwise heartfelt
coming-of-age story. Still, I imagine that many will want to read this
novel simply for the story that it tells and in order to see the
reflection of a society not often depicted in the English word.


--
Christopher Atamian is a noted translator, writer, and producer/director
living in New York City. He produced the OBIE Award-winning play "Trouble
in Paradise" in 2006 and was included as an invited artist to the 2009
Venice Biennale for his video "Desire". His short films and videos have
screened throughout the world and he publishes regularly in leading
publications such as The Huffington Post and The New York Times. He has
written one novel, "Speaking French," and translated six books from French
and Western Armenian into English, including Nigoghos Sarafian's "The Bois
de Vincennes." Christopher has worked in senior-level positions for leading
media companies including ABC, Ogilvy Interactive and JP Morgan's marketing
division. He is an alumnus of Harvard University, Columbia Business School
and USC Film School and a former Fulbright, Bronfman and Gulbenkian Scholar.
Chris can be reached at catamian@gmail.com
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