Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
Book Riot’s Reader Harder Challenge task accomplished:
Read a book that is set in the Middle East
I am really behind on my book reviews because there was a time when I read like 4 back to back and didn’t want to bore my readers with these posts. While at the time I had written some and saved them in a Word doc, I have since had to swipe my laptop clean so who knows what those said! That’s all to say that these next few book reviews will be pretty crappy. Srz.
This book, Orhan’s Inheritance, did what a lot of my favorite historical-fiction novels have been doing lately and alternated between present day and the past. What’s most interesting to me about how this mechanism was used in this novel was that the author isn’t truly telling two separate stories. Rather, she uses present day to get to the past, and to state a message. Orhan is a young man living in Istanbul who returns to his home village after his grandfather’s death. There, his whole family is surprised when the will left their house to a completely unknown woman. The family was still well-set up, with the textile business that Orhan was already running being left to him, and providing the family housing in the city…but there’s still nothing desirable about losing your home.
Orhan’s task is to find the strange woman to find out who she is and why this is happening…and to ask her to sign papers that give the house to his family. The woman turns out to be living in a nursing home for Armenian refugees in California. No one there seems to mind the presence of the obviously Muslim Turk there, until the woman’s niece shows up. The niece is pulling together a gallery showing of photos and stories of Armenian refugees about the Armenian genocide and the collective sadness that Armenians carry as a result of their exile from their homes and the mass killings of their people.
I literally finished this book about two months ago so can’t write that eloquently on it, but I do love that this novel tied in a theme that keeps coming back over and over again in my blog posts: the meaning of the words we say. Orhan is talking to someone important to the story (#nospoilers) when this happens:
“…Call me what you want, but love me, Orhan. Because that’s the only thing that matters.”
But love is a word, thinks Orhan before hanging up. Love is a goddamn word. And which ones we use does matter.1
For a far better book review and more information, read this NPR story about it.
1From Chapter 33 “Decrepit Seed,” Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2015