Zabelle – An Armenian Tale by Nancy Kricorian

Armenian Legends illustrated by Zabelle C. Boyajian (1916).
Armenian Legends illustrated by Zabelle C. Boyajian (1916). 


Nancy Kricorian brings to her readers a heartfelt and nurturing Novel: Zabelle. The life and character of Zabelle Chahasbanian moves through time and space conveying to readers the notion of the loss of loved ones, life through hardship, and survival. The novel begins with Zabelle’s children assembling a funeral for their mother in Watertown, Massachusetts. Her children and grandchildren barely know the origins of Zabelle’s story. The novel takes place during the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey.

Throughout Zabelle, interesting turn of events take place for the protagonist who survived the Armenian Genocide in 1915. Zabelle moves to the United States, gets married and lives to see her grandchildren. The events of World War I in the Ottoman Empire, where approximately two million inhabitants were killed or disappeared traceless, usually described as the 1915 Genocide or the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian population constituted up to 1.5 million of these victims. The genocide practically emptied the Ottoman Empire and current Turkey from its Armenian Christian population, leaving almost an entirety of a Muslim/Turkish population. The genocide was intended as a solution to the Armenian Question, but in the Ottoman Turkey, mainly Christian Assyrians/Syrians/Chaldeans and Greeks suffered as well.

We understand the inspiring story of Zabelle from the beginning because she is the definition of a true survivor. The story begins with recounts of one of the worlds hideous crimes against humanity, the Armenian Genocide. Zabelle is uprooted from her home, marches through the Syrian desert, and survives after losing everything. She gets another chance at life and works to survive as a single female, making the most out of it.

Nancy Kricorian focuses on interesting themes in the novel. The unintentional consequences of genocide leads Zabelle to move to Istanbul and adopted by a Turkish family. Zabelle later on moves to the United States. However, Zabelle moves through lands holding close her Armenian identity, language and values with her. She lives as a lost Armenian soul trying to gather of what identity is left of her heritage. It becomes more difficult when she moves to the United States were Western values are implemented in every household.

When the whistle blew, Moses hugged Joy and shook hands with Toros and Jack, while I stood on one side. The he leaned down to hug me. He was stiff and unyielding, but I couldn’t help holding on to him like he was a wooden plank in the bobbing sea. I imagined myself gripping the hem of his coat as he mounted the train steps, dragging behind him. He pulled himself free and slowly picked up his suitcase.
Suddenly I was a small, dirt-cake girl among a hundred ragged children, reaching up to Moses, begging for a crust of bread. But with dignity and determination, he climbed the steps of the train, knowing he could only save himself. Like a fox in an iron trap, he would chew off his own leg in order to make his escape. I called after him, “Moses don’t forget us.” The train pulled out of the station, and he was gone. (149)    

I found the warmth of the Armenian story intriguing, albeit a story of loss and despair. The remaining of Armenian characteristics are transformed through the value of family and the weight of importance in the secret ingredient to Armenian cuisine. Kricorian show cases to her audience the prominence of holding on to the surviving Armenian culture. The Author eloquently conceals the misery of the past of Zabelle, yet also flashes the audience with incidents once in a while as a reminder of her story.

I find Zabelle interesting because Kricorian is a master in projecting elements of daily life in a story. Kricorian writes about issues of family feuds, raising children, and progression in life. Along with “cultural” issues in the novel, such as the “American lifestyle”. Zabelle is a strong woman who cherishes her family and seeks to move forward in her life. She is a brave woman and a warm mother. The novel reminded me of the beauty of the true Armenian story where family comes above all and religion is a dominant key element in her story.

I recommend you read Zabelle to those who are interested in a glimpse of the Armenian story and the warmth of values and traditions.

We loaded down the donkey and filled the wagon with sacks of rice, flour, bulgur, and dried fruit. Some clothes, a few blankets. My mother cried about leaving the rugs and wooden chest she had brought with her from her mother’s home. In the chest were the wedding towels she had embroidered as a girl and the needle-lace doilies she had worked. Each knotted loop in the lace was the size of a mustard seed. Strung together, they formed flowers, the sun, and the stars. (17) 

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