by Lorne Shirinian
History of Armenia and Other Fiction is Lorne Shirinian's third book of stories. This new collection is divided into four sections:
"History of Armenia," which explores the
Armenian diaspora in Canada, "Wolfe Island Mystery," a
dark love story, "Forced Departures," the story of the
continuing trauma of the Armenian Genocide in two
generations of an Armenian Canadian family in Toronto,
and "Face Down," a metaphysical mystery story coloured with
When you are possessed by your dispossession, you walk through the
streets of their cities, trying to articulate your condition. You become a mythical
character in your own stories, looking for someone to need you. You float free
but search for connections in cafés and unfurnished rooms. You scorn
retirement and pensions and relish that you are an extra in life.
When you are dispossessed, you constantly move from city to city. You
keep yourself off balance and take comfort in disquiet. Your stories come from
your oblique perspective: the sun is always at half mast. Fiction has become the
our lives are not
we have become
And so the history of Armenia and other fiction. Though not the final
You tell strangers that the history of Armenia is also the history of Canada.
They drop loose change into your outstretched hand.
What then of diaspora, dispersion, and dispossession, of repopulating and
reterritorialization? Our homeland the text. Dispossessed, you walk the
tongue-tied streets of their cities. Stealth, art, and craft have become your
weapons. You publish books and place your stories before them. Discretely,
you make films to draw them to the angry screen; you paint canvases of our
shared land with Armenian colours, take pictures through our preferred lenses.
We are possessed by an intimate knowledge of existence and
disappearance. We are aware of the treachery of order. We have begun to
invade your landscape with our fiction, inhabit your dreams with our myths.
Imperceptibly, we will become your brothers and sisters.
Listen. Voices possessed. The random meeting of nomadic voices in a bar
on rue Saint-Laurent in Montreal, huddled tight against a wall frantically
asking for directions. And vagabond sounds in a Bloor Street café in Toronto
drift towards an intimate corner spread wide like an open book. The accusing
glance of a faceless man in a bow tie. Never forget you are a stranger here.
Pilgrim lovers and migrant friends. Anything for an extra on the road.
Listen. Voices mysterious, tense with longing. Blind captives on dark
islands, muttering vagrant declarations. Duplicitous reflection shipwrecked in
deep water. Kingston as home and outpost, the final parapet, last line of
defence. Insistent voices. Turn your back on it all. Once more. Refugee.
Immigrant. Pioneer of your own lost cause.
Listen. Voices bloated with memory. Possessed and restless. Words
without a home. Forced departures. Hobo history riding the rails of delirious
fiction. Roughed up at each station. Left for dead. Each crossing another story
of Armenia. Who becomes the footnote?
And through the night trains leave the station.
“When you are possessed by your dispossession, you walk through their cities, trying to articulate your condition. You become a mythical character in your own stories…When you are dispossessed, you constantly move from city to city. You keep yourself off balance and take comfort in disquiet. Fiction has become the last refuge.”
It is with such penetrating vision and a voice “tense with longing” and “bloated with memory” that Lorne Shirinian begins his prologue to his History of Armenia and Other Fiction, one of the two books he has just published at Blue Heron Press in Kingston, Ontario. Under such a provocative title, the reader drifts through this very moving collection of stories, from rue St-Laurent in Montreal to Bloor Street in Toronto, from Prague to Venice, and with characters constantly reminded of their difference and always aware of their immediate context.
Shirinian narrates with a perspicacious mind and an intricate consciousness the stories of Armenians—some autobiographical—whose ultimate role is to integrate their knowledge into the larger frame of the socio-political and historical references of Canada. In fact, Shirinian works with the moral imperative to remember and to integrate the past into the present. He writes with lyrical prose, and his highly diverse style reflects the mood of a diaspora a long time in the making.
Shirinian's collection of poems, Rough Landing, is equally sensitive and insightful. Haunting moments such as the ones that inhabit us while we read “Bones” and “The Assassination of the Future” will remain for generations with us, as we learn that Shirinian's spirit is fuelled by “the fire from the Genocide” and not just any inspirational spark of fire. This same fire urges his son, as the poet writes in “My Son Re-Invents His Father,” to ask: “I mean what kind of poet would you be/if you weren't Armenian/have you ever thought of that/so what kind of filmmaker am I because you're my father….”
Shirinian is a prolific writer and has published poetry, fiction, and literary criticism both in Canada and overseas. The Montreal Chapter of the Hamazkain Literary Circle had the honour on Friday, April 7 to welcome Professor Shirinian, who read from his fiction and presented his forthcoming important book, Quest for Closure: The 1915 Armenian Genocide and the Search for Justice in Canada, which will be available in fall 2000 from Blue Heron Press. His next work of criticism is titled Writing Memory: The Search for Home in Armenian Diaspora Literature and Film, which will be available in January 2001, also from Blue Heron Press.
Nellie Hogikyan in Horizon (Montreal), Monday, April 17, 2000.