A Review of Mark T. Mustian’s The Gendarme
When Kim Novak, a “method”-trained actress asked Alfred Hitchcock what her motivation was to go up the tower in the film “Vertigo,” Hitchcock answered, “Just go up, dearie, it’s only a movie.”
That anecdote comes to mind when reading Mark Mustian’s The Gendarme.
It is only a novel (but what a novel, one must admit) told from the point of view of a young Turkish gendarme responsible for the death-march of 2,000 Armenians from Harput to Aleppo, of whom only 300 survive. We must accept that he is a decent person, that he becomes enamored of Araxie, slightly younger than he, whose life he saves on more than one occasion and who subsequently deserts the Ottoman army in Aleppo to be near Araxie, is arrested by Ottoman officers, is sent to Gallipoli, is seriously wounded in the head, is thought to be a British soldier and is taken to England where it is discovered that he is Turkish and where he meets an American nurse with whom he falls in love and eventually comes to America, first living in New York, then in a small town in Georgia, where the story begins, with the gendarme now ninety-two years old.
But Ahmet Kahn, who becomes Emmett Conn when he settles in America, has problems which, apparently, are the results of the head injury.
He dreams a lot, sometime when sleeping, sometime when awake; he has memories.
At first, the reader may experience problems with Mustian’s style. The narration is sometimes in the present-present and sometimes in the past-present, sometimes in the near-past and sometimes in the past-past. Sometimes it is Kahn’s story, sometimes it is Conn’s story. It is a mosaic.
The deeper we get into the story, the more it becomes apparent that we know something that Conn does not–that he is going to seek out Araxie after all these years.
During the dreams and the bouts of memory we witness the horrors of the Genocide, albeit from the Turkish side. Kahn has witnessed some of the horrors, and he has committed some of them, and Conn seems to be fighting the inner demons as he remembers.
He also remembers the love he had for Araxie, and he recalls the plans they made for “after the war.” It was to be together in America. His desertion is based on the wish that hope can come true somehow. His adventures are fascinating to read, and we learn much of life in Aleppo during that period — working secretly to survive anonymously in the shop of a knife-maker (which, we learn, was his father’s trade), then as a handyman in (let us be blunt) a whorehouse.
(It must be said, parenthetically, that one must admire Mustian’s diligent researches into a world a century old, but which reads as vividly as if it is today’s world and he is there.)
Kahn is willing to undergo this less-than-ideal life so as to be near Araxie and to have the sheer joy of seeing her, however fleetingly, now and then. These visits are arranged by an old Armenian woman, Ani, who also cares for Araxie.
When his whereabouts are betrayed and Kahn is attacked by one of the guards on the death-march whose lust for Araxie Khan thwarted, Khan survives the attack and goes to the hospital where Araxie is staying. There he is met by the Ottoman officers and, as he is led away, he learns from Ani that “Araxie is gone.”
During all of the above, we are also learning about Conn’s life, his marriage, his children, his neighbors, and his friends. His wife has died, his relations with family are not of the best, but we learn that he is a warm, caring person. Eventually, his dreams/memories seem to be getting the better of him, and he is hospitalized — institutionalized, really — from which he decides to escape. But, how to find Araxie — he is sure that she, too, has come to America. He contacts a close friend, a former FBI agent who visits him in the hospital and gives him Araxie’s address in, of all places, New York City. He realizes that “he was so close … ”
He plans his escape, and does so, always looking over his shoulder for the police. He buys an airline ticket to New York, but leaves the plane at its first stop, and buys a bus ticket. He leaves the bus at its first stop, and rents a car. Always looking over his shoulder.
He gets to New York, orients himself, and gets to West 96th Street, to the apartment, and rings the bell …
Once the reader can accept the author’s various constructs, ”The Gendarme” is a page-turner well worth reading.
Mark T. Mustian’s The Gendarme was published by Amy Einhorn Books, G. P. Putnam’s Sons and is available on the author’s website.