Orhan’s Inheritance, Aline Ohanesian
Published April 7th 2015 by Algonquin Books
Hardcover, 352 pages
Source: e-ARC from NetGalley
When Orhan’s brilliant and eccentric grandfather Kemal—a man who built a dynasty out of making kilim rugs—is found dead, submerged in a vat of dye, Orhan inherits the decades-old business. But Kemal’s will raises more questions than it answers. He has left the family estate to a stranger thousands of miles away, an aging woman in an Armenian retirement home in Los Angeles. Her existence and secrecy about her past only deepen the mystery of why Orhan’s grandfather willed his home in Turkey to an unknown woman rather than to his own son or grandson.
Left with only Kemal’s ancient sketchbook and intent on righting this injustice, Orhan boards a plane to Los Angeles. There he will not only unearth the story that eighty-seven-year-old Seda so closely guards but discover that Seda’s past now threatens to unravel his future. Her story, if told, has the power to undo the legacy upon which his family has been built.
Moving back and forth in time, between the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the 1990s, Orhan’s Inheritance is a story of passionate love, unspeakable horrors, incredible resilience, and the hidden stories that can haunt a family for generations.
After reading the description for Orhan’s Inheritance, I pretty much had to have this book. I have not read a lot about the Ottoman Empire and had a pretty romanticized historical view of the land and the people. I can say that is no longer true after reading Orhan’s Inheritance. Yes, I know there’s been war and yes, I did know of the Armenian genocide – but I had not read anything substantial about either topic. Orhan’s Inheritance addresses the genocide that took place during World War I and the intragenerational pain that continues in the Armenian people.
During World War I the Ottomans accused the minority Armenian people living in what is now Turkey of collaborating with the Russians against them. Wikipedia tells me that the number of Armenian people killed is estimated between 800,000 and 1.5 million. This was a government directed execution of first the intellectuals, then men and last the women and children. But still, Turkey denies that a genocide took place.
This was an important book and the story was very well told. I really appreciated the changes in time and perspective from modern Kemal and to Seda in her youth. It really struck me while reading that because Turkey still doesn’t acknowledge that a genocide took place that their young people like Kemal are never taught about the Armenians. I appreciated that Kemal had his own painful history with his homeland, but still could see past his own experiences to learn a the truth about his family and his people. This book left me thinking about the brutality of the past and the unresolved grief of the Armenians. They endured unspeakable atrocities, yet remain unacknowledged.
I didn’t dislike the ending, but it all wrapped up a bit too quickly and conveniently for me. I would have liked more time with Kemal as he processed all the information he learned about his family and about the history of the Armenians in Turkey. Honestly, in parts this was an emotional brutal and graphic read — as you’d expect I suppose when it’s about genocide, but it also a book about love of family and was ultimately hopeful.
Thank you Algonquin Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.