Re-reading Michael Arlen’s “Passage to Ararat,” 2

…The story was true, I knew–a true and moving story, and one so far beyond my own experience.  But I found I wished his arm away from mine, wished away his frail hand, his tears.  “My father had committed no crime–can you believe it?  He had done nothing wrong.”  I could believe it. But I wished to be away, and out in the busy street.

Later, I thought, This cannot be Armenia, this cannot be what it is. Tears. Stories of evil times. Dark interiors and the croon of old men.  “My father had committed no crime.”  But he was killed, wasn’t he, and his brothers were killed, and his sisters were destroyed, and this old man–this boy–had been made to run and hide and to become small in his fear.  What kind of son was that?  What kind of father?

. . .

What had been so hard about it?  At first, I thought that I had been repelled by his tale of misery–that the details of his tragedy, as of a friend’s car accident or operation had been too rich to stomach.  But as soon as I thought this I knew that it was not so. I had never been squeamish about such things, and certainly not as a result of an old man’s lamentations. I realized that, instead, I was still possessed by a kind of fear.

. . .

We drove on awhile.  Saroyan talked about his children–a daughter in New York, a son in San Francisco. Family talk.  He asked me about my wife and children, about my sister, about my work. I felt something surprisingly paternal in his voice. It was a strange, deep feeling , as if we had known each other all along, when in fact I had met Saroyan only once before, briefly, a few years ago in New York, and had called him in Fresno only a week earlier to arrange our meeting.

. . .

…Then he bent down in front of a pile of dusty magazines and pulled one out.  “Did you ever see this?” he said.  It was a copy of an old English-language Armenian magazine. Saroyan opened it to an picture of my father; in fact, it was a reproduction of a photograph that had appeared on a cover of Time in 1927–now with a short not beside it on the “popular Anglo-Armenian novelist, formerly Dikran Kouyoumjian.”  Saroyan held the magazine open for a moment, and then put it down on the table. “It’s a good photo of him, isn’t it?” he said.  “Such confidence.”

“How is it that he never wrote anything serious about Armenians?” I asked.

“”I think he wasn’t that kind of writer,” Saroyan said. “He liked to be entertaining. He made a couple of good jokes about Armenians, as I remember.”

“Yes,” I said. “But how is it that you wrote all the time about Armenians and he never did?”

“I don’t know, ” said Saroyan. “Except that we all go on different journeys.  Just like you. Now you come here. And soon, I think, you must go to Erevan”

. . .

It was now midnight, or a bit later. We got in the car and drove through the silent streets of Fresno.  It was hard to tell in which direction we were going–out toward the country or in toward the downtown.  Darkened houses flicked by in the night.  “It is too bad you don’t know Armenian,” Saroyan said.  “Although you will survive.  But it is a marvelous language–marvelous sounds.  Do you know their songs? I shall sing one for you.”

Saroyan sang, rolling down the window of the car. Outside, it had begun to rain–one of those fine, sprinkling nighttime rains. Saroyan’s voice filled the car, the countryside silent except for the sound of our tires on the wet road.  “It is a song about love and injustice and about pomegranates getting ripe,” said Saroyan.  “In other words, about the important things in life.”

. . .

And so, in due course, I journeyed to Armenia–to Soviet Armenia, or what should be called more precisely the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.  Armenia is there, Saroyan had said. All right, I thought, I will go see it…

~~

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About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
This entry was posted in Armenians, Cities and towns, Ordinary places, Those we Love and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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