Mark T. Mustian's The Gendarme tackles those most difficult of subjects for fiction: genocide, war, cruelty, and love. Narrated by the 92-year-old Emmett Conn, a Turkish immigrant to the United States, the novel follows Conn from the present into the past and a welter of ever-clearer memories of the protagonist's role in the Armenian genocide in 1915. Conn, it soon turns out, served as a guard or gendarme for a forced march expulsion of Armenians, one of whom, the young woman Araxie, makes him doubt his purpose.
The novel gradually gives readers the often surprising details of Conn's entire life, from soldier in the Ottoman army through to living in the U.S., while keeping the focus on Araxie and Conn's relationship with her. It's a harrowing novel in places, but one that comes to the reader from a place of hope. In a starred review, Library Journal wrote, "First novelist Mustian writes relentlessly, telling his haunting story in brief bursts of luminous yet entirely unsentimental prose and reminding us that, when life gets bloody, we had better watch out for our own humanity."
We'll hear from Mustian later in the week--about his novel, about his omnivoracious reading habits, and his own "corollary to the Franzen/Piccoult-Weiner dustup," but for now here's a short interview I conducted with Mustian earlier this month.