It's another tear-jerker I'm afraid, yet another book with a page-blurring moment so either I'm going soft in my old age or getting blepharitis or these books are touching a chord.
My Grandmother A Memoir by Fethiye Cetin and published by Verso is a little book with a huge heart and an even bigger theme. As Fethiye recounts her grandmother's life, and in this beautiful translation by Maureen Freely, you realise that you are witnessing the struggles of a selfless and most extraordinary woman. A life that you can rejoice in for the sheer depth of fiesty determination to survive and the compassion for others born of that experience.
For most of her life Seher a Muslim, has concealed her true Christian Armenian identity from her family. Having watched the massacre of those closest to them, Heranus ( Seher's real name) and her mother and brother undertake the forced death march in 1915. Seized from her mother by a Turkish gendarme Heranus is then adopted into his family and separated from her own for ever. It is many years later that she divulges this truth to Fethiye and reveals that she thinks some of the family may have escaped to America all those years ago and might it be possible to trace them?
Acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide remains a very dangerous and difficult topic to write about within a country that maintains it never happened and, whilst not wishing to even speculate on something of which I know so little, it still becomes essential to acknowledge the courage and conviction of Fethiye Cetin to write and publish this book. Fethiye is a Turkish human-rights lawyer who campaigns fearlessly for the ongoing advocacy of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and there is little doubt of her commitment to the cause when you read My Grandmother.
The facts as told to Fethiye are presented rationally and unjudgementally, she does indeed cut right through any bitter political territory to tell her Grandmother's story, and it is left to the reader to make the call.
It is not difficult to hear the voice, in fact the heart-rending cries of those who were silenced.
In her excellent and informative introduction Maureen Freely clearly outlines the political situation in a way that Fethiye Cetin for obvious reasons cannot, it's chilling to read and illuminates in stark reality the depth of Fethiye's courage in the face of great danger but also great hope in writing this book,
'Despite the dangers it (ie the democracy movement) faces from what she has called 'obscure forces', she remains confident that democratisation, though slow, jagged and dangerous, cannot be checked.'
Now I recall that excellent account of the genocide in Prince Rupert's Teardrop by Lisa Glass and I will read that passage again in the light of this book. My Grandmother is one of those important books, a brave account of a remarkable and formidable woman, a life which is, despite the early sadness, a joy to read about and one which truly deserves to be remembered.
Maureen Freely will be speaking about Fethiye Cetin's book My Grandmother at Ways With Words, Dartington on Saturday July 12th at 12 noon and of course I'll be there.