Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: The Gendarme

Summary: What would you do if the love of your life, and all your memories, were lost—only to reappear, but with such shocking revelations that you wish you had never remembered...

A haunting, deeply moving novel-an old man comes face-to-face with his past and sets out to find the love of his life and beg her forgiveness.

To those around him, Emmet Conn is a ninety-two-year-old man on the verge of senility. But what becomes frighteningly clear to Emmet is that the sudden, realistic dreams he is having are memories of events he, and many others, have denied or purposely forgotten. The Gendarme is a unique love story that explores the power of memory- and the ability of people, individually and collectively, to forget. Depicting how love can transcend nationalities and politics, how racism creates divisions where none truly exist, and how the human spirit fights to survive even in the face of hopelessness, this is a transcendent novel. -- Amy Einhorn

This month, my on-line book club decided to read THE GENDARME by Mark T. Mustian. I was extremely excited about this selection because the book sounded exactly like one that I would enjoy. I'm not a big reader of history books, but I do love to get my "history lessons" from fictional accounts. (Yes, I do realize that's a form of cheating, but I probably wouldn't pick up a true history type book.) And THE GENDARME explored the conflict between the Turks and the Armenians -- a subject about which I knew absolutely nothing.

I've been postponing writing this review because THE GENDARME was such a difficult read for me. I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this book. On one hand, I had a very hard time getting into the story for the first half (or so) of the novel. It wasn't that I didn't like the book, but I wasn't rushing back to pick it up after I set it down. I think the difficult subject matter probably was a big reason behind this, but I still think the pace of the novel was an issue for me too. On the other hand, I knew I was reading a well-written and very powerful book. I guess I have to say that while I didn't exactly enjoy the entire novel, I did appreciate it a great deal.

I think one of the things that truly surprised me about the book was how much it affected me. I didn't really relate to the main character or even like him very much, and as a result, I was worried that the book wouldn't resonate with me at all. However, I found that THE GENDARME really made me think about quite a few things. First and foremost, I was reminded of how incredibly awful war is and how it brings out the worst in humans. Even though I was disgusted by the behavior of some of the Turk soldiers, I couldn't help but see that in a way they were victims of the war as well. I was also grateful (not sure that's the right word) that I read this book because I learned about the conflict between the Turks and the Armenians. I am incredibly embarrassed to say that I had no idea such horrific events took place, and I found myself wanting to learn more about them after finishing the book. (And it made me question what else I don't know about world events.)

Another thing I appreciated about this novel was how the author developed the character of Emmet. While I didn't exactly love him, I still was impressed with how complex and well-developed he was. I was kind of blown away by Emmet and his memory loss, and I found it interesting to learn about Emmet's past. I really enjoyed that Emmet was so human and had many faults, and that the author really challenged me to think about Emmet and his past actions. It was apparent that my issues with Emmet weren't all black and white, and the shades of gray in between really challenged me as a reader and a person.

And finally, I really thought this story was very well-written. The premise of the book is really unique and special, and I definitely liked how Mr. Mustian presented the story and how he managed to surprise me a few times with the story. I appreciated having the opportunity to learn Emmet's story in his words; and I liked how the author let the story unfold by alternating between the present and the past. I especially enjoyed how Mr. Mustian used the theme of memory and I found it interesting that I discovered Emmet's prior actions pretty much at the same time he did. I thought it was all very well-done.

Unfortunately, I had some family obligations the day of my book club's discussion and I missed our meeting. I was extremely disappointed because I do think I could have benefited from talking about THE GENDARME with others. There is a wonderful reading guide available which asks some extremely thought-provoking questions. Some of the topics which really are just begging to be discussed include war and the effects it has on individuals and a country, religious differences, memory, forgiveness, redemption, love, dreams, mental illness, and many more. I found THE GENDARME to be quite complex and I think the characters and their actions could be discussed for hours.

As I mentioned before, my feelings about THE GENDARME are mixed to say the least. I can't go so far as to say that I enjoyed it, but I did appreciate the writing and the story. And it definitely made me think!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.

9 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

I really had mixed feelings as well. It wasn't a blow-me-away kind of read. I felt distant from Emmett, and he exuded a distance and coldness in his personality. But the story overall really stayed with me, and I was utterly enchanted by Araxie. To me, she made the story memorable. I have to say that Mark Mustian is really a gentle, humble soul, and after meeting him, just wanted to give him a hug (alas I did not, as I didn't want him to think I was a weirdo!).

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm so glad to see more books coming out about what happened to the Armenians. I just read a book about a 91-year-old guy. It must be the time for previously unexplored topics!

bermudaonion said...

This was just an okay read for me as well. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I'd read the author's note first.

Mystica said...

This has been a book I've wanted to read (I loved the cover as well!) My knowledge of this period of history is zero - the mixed reviews also make me feel I need to read this for myself.

Gerbera Daisy Mom said...

This was reviewed in the NYTimes this weekend, and I think your post and following comments reflect similar thoughts. I was going to add it to my "to read" list, but I will pass.

Beth F said...

We missed you at the meeting. There was quite a lot to talk about with this novel. I still haven't written my own review. So much to be taken in by but other parts could have been more developed.

diaryofaneccentric said...

I've seen a lot of mixed reviews, but I'm still hoping to get a chance to read the copy I took out of the library recently!

S. Krishna said...

We felt very similarly about this book, I think. In my opinion, part of it was because I was expecting to love it.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

You make a very good point - that the Turkish soldiers are victims of the war as well; I think we overlook that sometimes.

I was exposed to the history thru the novel, which made me curious about the *real* history of the conflict. I read THOSE WHO SAVE US after this, have you read it? A fantastic novel, also looks at guilt, memories, forgiveness (of self and others)