Re-reading “Passage to Ararat” by Michael Arlen Jr.

~~There is a handful of works of literature–poems, novels, criticism– to which I return every few years the way I return to an old friend.  Michael Arlen Jr.’s “Passage to Ararat” is one such work. I read it first in the late 1970s, in Iowa City; then again in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and one more time since then, here in Boston. This will be my fourth reading which I think may be the most weighty. I have begun it only a day or two ago, of this year, the year which marks the centenary of the Ottoman Genocide of the Armenians.

A chronic marker of pages, I have already several pencil lines in the margins of this lovely gem of a book by a master stylist.  Its pages have already–and again– taken me in, taken me into Arlen’s tremble of emotion.  Unadorned, at times self-effacing and at others gently assertive, Arlen’s voice seems as powerful as it did when the book came out in 1976, the passage of the decades having neither diminished their import nor its relevance.

From time to time, I will post from the book, passages which I have loved. Familiar, yes, but also unexplored, new as though it was a first reading–which it is, of course.~~

9780374530129_p0_v2_s260x420~~At mid term, my father came alone to visit me, arriving in a chauffeur-driven car and carrying a box of chocolates.  For the first time in my life, I thought him strange–almost a stranger. I remember looking at him surreptitiously, sneaking glances at his face–looking for what?  I don’t  know.  I wanted him to tell me that we were really English, bu I didn’t know how to ask….I felt generally American, or perhaps for a while Anglo-American, but, clearly, there was also something missing. Something missing or added. I became conscious of being accompanied by a kind of shadow of “being  Armenian,” which other people sometimes noticed, or casually commented on, but which my father had said, in effect, did not exist.~~

~~Such small beginnings. That evening, for the first time, I met Armenians on my own.  Armenian women who laughed and asked too many questions. Thick-chested men who seemed always to have their arms around each other. Too many cups of coffee and small, sweet cakes. I was there–wherever there was. It was an uncertain beachhead, for I kept fighting off the desire to bolt.  Never let them get too close! But I also knew that a corner of some missing piece had briefly become visible. 

As I finally made my way toward the door, a voice called out, “You will come back!” I couldn’t tell whether it was a statement or a question.

“I will,” I said.

The journey had begun.~~

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About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
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