Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 31, 2018

My Name is Revenge, by Ashley Kalagian Blunt

It’s not that I hadn’t kept up with the inaugural Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award: it’s just that two of the three finalists were short story collections and I prefer novels.  But a chance ‘like’ on one of my tweets, led me to a novella among the finalists, and although IMHO the novella turned out to be more of a short story at only 48 pages, I wasn’t disappointed, because it’s very good indeed.  And as a bonus, there’s also a very thoughtful essay about historical denial, pragmatic politics, political radicalisation and the dilemma of truth-telling about the past without fostering resentment and vengeance.

Set in Sydney in 1980, My Name is Revenge is the story of a young man of Armenian origin.  Named as a reminder of the Armenian genocide in 1915, and intensely resentful of his school’s insistent denial of authenticated history, Vrezh idolises his older brother Armen and naively becomes involved in planning an act of terrorism.  The story is a good example of historical fiction being used for serious purposes.  I have previously referenced this essay about the value of historical fiction as an activist’s tool by Zulu author Fred Khumalo: he thinks that bringing untold stories alive in well-researched fiction can have political weight, revealing a history otherwise unknown and featuring voices otherwise silenced.  My Name is Revenge is a perfect example: the international silence around the Armenian Genocide is a story that should be known by a wider audience, (and certainly by school teachers!) and the sensitive portrayal of risks associated with adolescent resentment about the denial is something we all need to understand.  Writing this story as historical fiction gives it a potent immediacy and trust me, it’s compelling reading.

As the author explains in the Reflective Essay that follows the novella, the plot is based on true events:

The assassination of the Turkish consul-general and his bodyguard in Vaucluse, Sydney, in December 1980 was part of a series of international terrorist attacks. The Justice Commandoes of the Armenian Genocide were a real group. They and similar groups committed dozens of acts of terrorism across Europe, the Middle East and North America, as well as in Australia, from 1973 to the early 1990s. The details about the Sydney assassination […] all come from newspaper reports at the time. The assassins were never caught, though there are faint whispers in the Armenian Australian community about who they might have been. A second attack, a car bombing, took place in Melbourne in 1986. The bomb went off early, and only the bomber was killed.

But the author, of Armenian heritage herself, is certainly not an apologist for terrorist violence:

Armenians have long been the underdogs of history. In the decades after WWI, the ongoing denial exacerbated the sense of rage and loss experienced not only by survivors but their children and grandchildren. For some, these feelings grew into frustration and disenfranchisement. Many Armenians feel persecuted. Can anyone blame them for wanting, even just for a moment, to take justice into their own hands?

A few of them did, of course, forming the Justice Commandoes of the Armenian genocide and targeting Turkish diplomats around the world. The Justice Commandoes were the grandchildren of survivors. They wanted to ensure justice would happen while their grandparents were still alive to experience it. They wanted Turkey to acknowledge the genocide, to apologise and pay reparations. Political diplomacy had done nothing, and besides, it was the 1970s, so Armenia was still trapped under the boot of the Soviet Union, unable to voice its own opinions, unable even to tell its own history.

I’d been researching the genocide for years before I first learned about the Justice Commandoes. Only a few history books mention these attacks, generally with a mere paragraph or two. I’d been so accustomed to reading about Armenians as victims, but now this handful of Armenian perpetrators – violent murderers – leapt off the page, shocking me. I couldn’t condone or even empathise with their methods. And yet I understood their motives intimately.

Unless I read and finish another book in the last five hours of 2018, My Name is Revenge is my last book for the year.  I like to think that there is a new maturity in Australian publishing and that this book will be one of many more new voices forged from within our diverse multicultural identity.

The cover design is by Bettina Kaiser.

Other reviews are by Karen Chisholm at the Newtown Review of Books and by Dasha Maiorova at her blog 

Author: Ashley Kalagian Blunt
Title: My Name is Revenge, a novella and reflective essay
Publisher: Spineless Wonders, 2018, 48 pages
ASN:  B07J18TYSJ
Source: Personal library, purchased for the Kindle from Amazon Australia, $2.84

 

 


Responses

  1. Turkey is one of those countries taking us back to the 1930s of Mussolini, Franco, Hitler. Now joined by Brazil, and the US too if Trump was more competent. Turkey will no doubt take advantage of Trump’s idiocy/malleability to wipe out the Kurds as they did the Armenians.

    But the other problem raised here is young men spoiling for a fight. Often they’re over it by 30 but by then far too many of them have been jailed for life. Sometimes I wish we could just send them all to Sydney Cove for seven years.

    Like

    • Yes, Turkey (despite its flaws, of which Armenia is a most egregious one) used to be a beacon of democracy in the Middle East and there might have been some hope of a reconciliation process of some sort. It’s bad enough to see the retreat from secularism, but I would hate to see it fall into an Islamic state, from which it appears there is no return.

      Like


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