Thursday, April 2, 2015

Orhan's Inheritance

Title:  Orhan's Inheritance
Author:  Aline Ohanesian
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2015. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1616203749 / 978-1616203740

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "They found him inside one of the seventeen cauldrons in the courtyard, steeping in an indigo dye two shades darker than the summer sky."

Favorite Quote:  "We are not what is done to us."

Orhan is Turkish. He returns home to his small ancestral village upon his grandfather's death. His grandfather, going against tradition, passes over his own son in his will. He leaves his son only an apartment, bequeathing his business to Orhan and their ancestral village home to a woman Seda, who lives in the United States and who Orhan has never heard of. Orhan is tasked with figuring out who the woman is, why his grandfather might have left her the house, and if he can get it back for his family.

His journey leads him to the United States and to his own family's past. Seda is an elderly Armenian woman living in a nursing home in San Francisco. The book weaves between the 1990s and the World War I era as Seda recalls her story. Her story completely change Orhan and who he thought he was and who he believes his grandfather was. His inheritance turns out to be much more than the family home and business.

Several things are clear in this book. War claims victims on all sides. The history we learn depends on who is relating the history. An appeal to and a questioning of God comes in times of distress no matter what your religion.

War claims victims on all sides. Lucine and Kemal are young during the War. They are friends, perhaps more. Yet, they are on opposite sides of the war. During World War I, the Turkish government turns against its own Armenian citizens, decimating the Armenian community. Lucine is from an established Armenian family.  She cannot comprehend how the place that is her home and the people who are her neighbors now seek to destroy her family. The brutality that she and her family experience is beyond words. Kemal, on the other hand, is Turkish and has been taught about the "inferiority" of the Armenians and the need for protecting Turkey from "outsiders". He follows his upbringing into service as a Turkish soldier, but does not really understand the war he fights. Is he a guilty aggressor, blindly going into battle and not questioning or is he a young victim of the decision makers? "Nothing about this war makes sense."

The history we learn depends on who is relating the history. Decades after the war, Orhan and Ani meet. He is Turkish, and she is Armenian. Their different views of history reflect what they have been taught. One believes the government's version; the other lives through the memories of genocide. Orhan's views start to change only when he learns Seda's reality. "All of life ... is a story within a story; how we choose to listen and which words we choose to speak makes all the difference."

An appeal to and a questioning of God comes in times of distress no matter what your religion. Throughout the book, almost every character calls upon God. Some reject Him for how could a God allow such atrocities to happen. Some still believe but also believe that God has deserted them. Some don't believe, but recognize His blessings. Again and again, even in denying God's existence, they all call upon God.

The parts of this book that are set during the war in Turkey show the story in all its sadness and devastation. The author's masterful descriptions place the reader in the horrific destruction Seda survived. At the same time, the author manages to capture war from both sides, showing the different perspectives in how neighbor turned against neighbor and how sometimes help came in the most unexpected places. The characters - Kemal, Lucine, Aunt Fatma, and others - come alive as does a vivid, horrifying picture of what was done to the Armenians.

The parts of the book, especially some of the conversations, set in the 1990s tell the story of the war. Seda lives through the horror; her niece Ani needs to retell it to ensure that it is remembered. The descriptions of what Seda - indeed all of the them - endure touch the heart and boggle the mind. She survives through it and needs no reminders. Seda's desire is to remain in the present and keep the memories at bay, while Ani needs to create a constant reminder for the world. Understandable, but in reading the book, Ani's statements seem almost superfluous. Seda's story does not need the embellishment of an explicit explanation. The images alone are enough. Yes, we need the next generations and all those who come after to remember. However, we do not need their explanations to give credence or weight to what happened. "All the words in every human language on earth would not be enough to describe what happened."

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. Thanks for your review. Your words capture the deeper meaning of the story the author tells.

    1. Thank you for stopping by. I am glad you enjoyed the review.