I had heard of Martine Madden’s book Anyush before I met her at the Stone House Books reader event but hadn’t got around to looking into it or reading the blurb or any reviews. My mistake but as I’ve read and enjoyed it now, the mistake has been rectified. I knew nothing about Armenian history and this novel, as it follows the tale of a fictional young girl, offers an insight into the genocide of up to two million Armenians during the first world war. Reading it, I felt ashamed that I knew nothing of the atrocities experienced by these people. Why on earth hadn’t I heard of it in studies of that time period?
Anyush is born into poverty, her father is dead and she lives with her mother and grandmother. Armenians are very much treated as scum by the Turks in the Ottoman Empire. Armenian men are conscripted into the war, women and children at risk from rape and murder. Yet, when Anyush meets a young Turk soldier and they fall in love, both seem sure that circumstances will not destroy their relationship.
Anyush shows herself to be a hard worker with intelligence as she becomes more experienced with nursing, working for Dr Stewart, an American doctor. Much of the story is also told from his viewpoint, showing his desire to help those less unfortunate yet his reluctance to believe how bad circumstances are becoming. He seems to see the best in everyone whereas Paul, an American contemporary, is well aware of man’s inhumanity to man.
Anyush and Jahan are separated by circumstances and it seems they will never see each other again. Will he hear of her pregnancy? Will she become another statistic amongst the Armenian dead? Will he, a soldier, survive the war? As hundreds of old men, women and children are gathered up from her village and sent on a long walk, will she survive?
The storyline of the Stewart family and of Anyush and Jahan makes for compelling reading but set against such a harsh history, you won’t be able to put it down. Knowing that so many Armenians met their deaths in such harsh circumstances and suffering such atrocities makes it very evident that a happy ending isn’t likely for these characters. A compelling read and a beautiful book. ?Perfect for a Christmas read.