Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Hundred Year Walk - Spotlight, Excerpt, Author Q & A plus NPR Interview


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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (January 12, 2016)
Idgie Says: 

A lovely book filled with a rich history of the area and some powerful photographs of the people that worked to survive through this period in history.   I love books that entertain and educate at the same time and this one does just that.

Link to Elle Magazine excerpt HERE.


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 Investigative journalist Dawn Anahid MacKeen’s new book THE HUNDRED-YEAR WALK: An Armenian Odyssey (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) just hit stores this week. Not only is this book gorgeous and powerful, it is also incredibly timely.


Excerpted in Elle, called "a haunting journal of remembrance" by Barron's, and "gripping" by Outside Magazine, THE HUNDRED-YEAR WALK is Dawn's monumental effort to share her grandfather’s firsthand account of his miraculous survival during the the 1915 Armenian genocide. Dawn retraces her grandfather's steps, using the journals he kept as her guide, giving us a haunting account that is part memoir, part history.   

Dawn's brilliant and important new book is particularly relevant now given our current war on terror and unrest in Syria, and the 100th anniversary of the 20th century’s first wide-scale genocide in which the Turks slaughtered 2-million Armenians.

NPR Interview Link Here:
Also embedded at bottom of post. 

Book Description:
In the heart of the Ottoman Empire as World War I rages, Stepan Miskjian’s world becomes undone. He is separated from his family as they are swept up in the government’s mass deportation of Armenians into internment camps. Gradually realizing the unthinkable—that they are all being driven to their deaths—he fights, through starvation and thirst, not to lose hope. Just before killing squads slaughter his caravan during a forced desert march, Stepan manages to escape, making a perilous six-day trek to the Euphrates River carrying nothing more than two cups of water and one gold coin. In his desperate bid for survival, Stepan dons disguises, outmaneuvers gendarmes, and, when he least expects it, encounters the miraculous kindness of strangers.

The Hundred-Year Walk alternates between Stepan’s saga and another journey that takes place a century later, after his family discovers his long-lost journals. Reading this rare firsthand account, his granddaughter Dawn MacKeen finds herself first drawn into the colorful bazaars before the war and then into the horrors Stepan later endured. Inspired to retrace his steps, she sets out alone to Turkey and Syria, shadowing her resourceful, resilient grandfather across a landscape still rife with tension. With his journals guiding her, she grows ever closer to the man she barely knew as a child. Their shared story is a testament to family, to home, and to the power of the human spirit to transcend the barriers of religion, ethnicity, and even time itself.

ABOUT THE BOOK
Dawn Anahid MacKeen’s grandfather, Stepan Miskjian, kept meticulous journals of his entire story, a “road map to his life,” which MacKeen felt compelled to follow by traveling to Turkey and Syria to walk in his steps—a dangerous venture since it was illegal there to even mention this part of history. But she had to “taste his thirst, touch the land where he walked. See the green hills surrounding his Adabazar, where his dreams of becoming the town’s first courier had taken root, before they withered and died in the desert.” And so the book jumps from Stepan’s journey to hers, from history to present, in a page-turning narrative aflame with raw emotion.
There are several other publications by Armenian authors in this centenary year, but none personalize these events the way MacKeen does in THE HUNDRED-YEAR WALK. She takes tremendous risk to make sure her grandfather’s legacy is remembered, and expands on his account by drawing on newspapers from the period, other survivor memoirs, official telegrams, and even tracking down the relatives of the survivors from her grandfather's caravans.
MacKeen is an award-winning investigative journalist who has written for places like the New York Times Magazine, Salon, Elle, and Newsday. But several factors almost kept her from writing this astounding piece of history. To name just a few:
  • Her grandfather barely survived the Armenian genocide. He escaped countless times, and all that he witnessed almost died with him.
  • In 2006, MacKeen discovered four more notebooks just as she was about to quit the book for lack of additional information. These included Stepan’s life before WWI.
  • In Raqqa, Syria, she met a Bedouin sheikh who helped her find the family of the Arab sheikh who saved her grandfather’s life. By the time she had returned to Syria in 2009, the Bedouin sheikh had died.
  • The war in Syria now makes travel to the country impossible. A century later, history is repeating itself along the Euphrates, where MacKeen traveled; the area has once again become a cemetery.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dawn Anahid MacKeen is an award-winning investigative journalist who spent nearly a decade on her grandfather’s story. Previously she was a staff writer at Salon, Newsday, and Smart Money. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Elle, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She lives in Southern California.

Q&A WITH THE AUTHOR

Why did you feel compelled to write this book?
Ever since I can remember, my mother has been telling me about what happened to her father. Still, the story was relayed in fragments, and I couldn’t grasp how extraordinary it was until I could finally read it for myself as an adult. (This was thanks to a relative who translated his account, which was published in the sixties by a small press, from Armenian into English.) After reading it, I couldn’t believe that he survived, and the ripple effect that my entire family was alive. My grandfather Stepan believed he lived in order to tell the world what happened, and shared his ordeal with my mother throughout her childhood. She then passed it onto me. This is our family’s heirloom. Other people inherit fine china. I inherited this story, along with it the responsibility of retelling it.

Would you have survived this?
I ask myself this all the time. At each turn, what would I have done when faced with the same near-impossible odds?Would I have made the same decisions as my grandfather? Or would I have given up? My grandfather did everything to reunite with his family again, transforming himself constantly, and pushing his own physical and emotional limits. He was level-headed, and always tried to plot his next step, escaping from one of the worst killing fields of the genocide. He donned the uniform of a Turkish soldier, dressed like Lawrence of Arabia, and became part of a clan to escape the Turkish gendarmes who were trying to kill him. He learned Arabic. Later in the war, he became a translator to a German officer later, using his basic French. This was a man who only had a third grade education, but the survival skills he picked up as a child after his father died helped him to persevere. He was also a kind man, which ingratiated strangers to assist him. And, of course, there’s the luck factor; he was extremely fortunate, too, to have been able to escape so many times when others didn’t have that opportunity.

But if I am honest with myself, I know I’m not as clever or as strong as him. I have long ago decided that I wouldn’t have lived.

How did you discover more of his journals?
I had just moved back to Los Angeles from New York and was quickly finding out how difficult it was to report on this subject. I had the journals from the small press, but they only told part of the story. Of course, this is a genocide and most people didn’t survive, and even if they did, it’s a century later. Almost everyone involved was long gone. Suddenly, I was living at home at age 35, and feeling like a complete loser. My mother and I had a huge fight about me quitting. She didn’t want me to stop. Just to be flippant and to state the impossible, I blurted out: “I cannot help you unless you raise your father from the dead, and have him tell me what happened to him.” Two days later, my mother found two of his notebooks. After that, my uncle searched his garage and unearthed two more. After finding those, I felt almost as if I had a mandate to complete this project.

How did you fill in the blanks from your grandfather’s journals?
The book is really a tapestry of many experiences. While my grandfather’s story is the main arc, I reconstructed the world around him through thousands of pages of research documents. Luckily, my grandfather was extremely detail-oriented and had an elephant-like memory, and wrote down the names of the villages he was pushed through on his death march, and the full names of people he encountered. Most of the people were from his town of Adabazar (now called Adapazari), which is not surprising. Many of the deportees grouped together by hometown in the camps. The caravans were also often emptied—slaughtered— by calling out the names of the towns.

I felt like an amateur detective, looking for any information about these people. I went through oral histories, and every single memoir that I could find written by his fellow villagers. I searched newspaper articles from the time period, almanacs, immigration records, and compatriot books that survivors wrote. I advertised in Armenian newspapers– much like Armenians did after the genocide, as they tried to locate lost family members. The same search is happening today, with the refugee crisis, as families are being separated from one another due to the war and mass exodus.
I scoured libraries in five countries, and Googled a lot! I found one family in Canada, one in Virginia and another in the Seattle area. But one of my biggest finds was the writings of one man who survived the same massacre as my grandfather. After years of research, I finally found his account in Armenia and Romania, where he’d moved following the war. The articles were published in 1924 and 1940. When I found this, I cried. I just knew that if I looked long enough, I’d find it. He described the same massacre as as my grandfather, and dated it within a day of my grandfather’s account. It’s moments like this that I am dumbfounded that these atrocities are still denied. The eyewitnesses may be gone, but they left a paper trail.

Why did you write about your experience in the book?
I didn’t set out to do this. I just wanted to see the land that my grandfather walked, which is now modern-day Turkey and Syria. The harsh terrain was also a prison for my grandfather and the other Armenians, and I believed I needed to see it in order to write accurately about it. But then, unexpectedly, I found the descendants of the Arab sheikh who saved my grandfather’s life in Syria. I wanted to find this man’s family but didn’t think I would. When I did, I realized that I became part of the story. The sheikh was Muslim and accepted my Christian grandfather for who he was, regardless of his ethnicity or religion, and treated him like a son. The sheikh’s descendants welcomed me in the same manner, like a long lost daughter, with some three hundred people greeting me at my arrival to the village. They were as beautiful as the sheikh. Finding them was one of the transcendental moments of my life. There I was, half way around the world, and I found the clan that was my grandfather’s extended family.

I think in this pitched climate of religious enmity, of Muslims versus Christians, the message of the sheikh is a powerful one. Just one person’s act of kindness can transform a family for generations.

What were the dangers in writing this book?
I visited President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria before the civil war. He ruled with a firm hand, as we all know. The secret police followed me and harassed me. They would do that for every foreigner and part of the challenge was to figure out whether it was routine or not. Mine was not routine, and the questioning continued until I left the country. I had heard they thought I was a spy for Israel. And it just so happened that I left just before Israel bombed Syria in September 2007, not far from where I had been traveling, reportedly to take out a secret nuclear reactor site. After I left, intelligence agents really harassed everyone that I spent time with. I was originally supposed to fly out after the date of the bombing, but had become so spooked by the police tail that I changed my flight and left earlier. I’m very grateful that I changed my itinerary, and don’t know what would have happened had I stayed.

The town of Raqqa is written about in your book. Is this the same Raqqa that's now headquarters for the Islamic State?
Yes. Ironically, Raqqa was an incredible place for me. I visited twice before the war, first during the retracing of my grandfather’s steps, and then two years later. I was welcomed unequivocally. I even stayed overnight at a local tribal leader’s house, who hosted a dinner party for me on the Euphrates River, with musicians serenading our table under the stars, the long table laden with food, with conversation with people of different faiths. Clearly the town has changed: Now it’s the international symbol of hate and intolerance.

During the genocide, Raqqa was one of the few safe havens for Armenians, and after the genocide, many settled there, building churches and schools, and growing close with the local population. While it was a poor town, the people were extremely friendly and proud of what they had and were unified, regardless of religion. Later, I read that ISIS turned the Armenian church into a recruitment center for jihadists. And in nearby Deir Zor, fighters blew up the memorial to the Armenian genocide victims, which I visited twice, and wrote about in the book.
Many of the people I spoke with in this area knew about the tragic history of the Armenians. Not ever imagining that in just a few short years many would be facing their own survival as the area descended into war.

Is it true certain factors made it almost impossible to publish this book?
My grandfather barely lived to tell his story. I always felt that I didn’t have the credentials to write about survival. What did I know being brought up as a middle class American in the Hollywood area? Then while writing the book I found myself unexpectedly facing my own survival, when I became critically ill. I had many complications and had to fight my way back to health again. But I was driven: I had to complete this book, and understood on a different level what my grandfather faced, when one’s body is taxed to its limit.

How did the genocide affect your family?
It affected them in every way. My family is scattered around the globe in France, Turkey and the United States. They left Turkey, just like the refugees are fleeing the Middle East today. I used to think this was a little bit fancy to have cousins in France, but after learning more about my family history I find it heartbreaking, of separating from those you love, losing your life’s possessions and livelihood, and starting out in a new country without the language. My grandfather could never get over that he survived, while so many others did not. He spoke about it every day to my mother, who in turned spoke to me. There’s something called transgenerational trauma and I definitely believe it was passed down to my mother’s generation. My grandfather would repeatedly tell my mother, “I’m going to die next year.” He’d say that all the time to her, not ever believing that he’d escaped his death sentence. How can that not affect a person? She grew up worried all the time that she was going to lose her father.

What was being in Turkey like?
I was very nervous going there, after growing up with stories of knife-wielding Turks. In 2007, just before I visited, a prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist was assassinated for speaking out about the genocide, and the government was prosecuting those who took up the issue. But I experienced real kindness from many people. And while I was infuriated by conversations with people who denied it happened, I had to remind myself that there are many good people who have been been taught a warped history. This is a state-sponsored denial. Children learn in their history books that the Armenians were the agitators, that they had sided with the enemy during a time of war, and their deaths were a consequence of that. It doesn’t mean that these individuals are bad people, which I think is a frequent assumption. The Turks today aren’t the ones who perpetrated the genocide. For many of the people, it’s about education. We need to educate the future generations of Turks about what happened in a way that acknowledges the atrocities and allows the healing to begin. Of course, individuals also bear responsibility in this information age to educate themselves and question the history that they’ve been spoon-fed.

Why does it matter that Turkey still denies this?
History keeps repeating itself. We are seeing nearly identical images of persecution coming from the area where my grandfather suffered a century earlier. We are seeing the death convoys, the violation of women, the mass executions. It’s important to learn more about the forces that cause a genocide, and how to prevent it from happening again. After it happens, accountability is crucial. Perpetrators need to be adjudicated in criminal courts. For the Armenians, this has never really happened. On top of that, the modern state of Turkey campaigns against recognition. The Armenians can’t heal until their suffering has been acknowledged. Every time someone says it didn’t happen, the trauma is reopened. I think Pope Francis described it best when he said recently on the 100th anniversary of the killings, “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it."

Any funny experiences during your research?
One time I thought I’d found the long lost daughter of an individual named in my grandfather’s journals. I had become obsessed with finding this man, and had already been searching for several years. This man had escaped from the same massacre as my grandfather, and later died in the Soviet Gulags in Siberia. I just believed deep down that he would have written about his experience. I received word about this “daughter” and raced to the Armenian old folks home where she lived, and the woman was wheeled in. “This is it,” I thought. I was feverishly writing down everything she said, but as I probed, I discovered that though she shared the same last name, and was from Romania, where this particular man fled after the war, the sweet lady had no relation to the man I was looking for, but was very interested in chatting for the rest of the afternoon! It was a nice encounter, just not the one I was anticipating.

 

Spotlight on 2 New Thomas & Mercer Releases - Baggage and Journey to Death

Baggage
Thomas & Mercer
February, 2016

Description
A new thriller from the bestselling author of Flowertown, The Widow File, and Redemption Key.

Over the years, terrible things keep happening to Anna Ray on February 17. First, there was the childhood trauma she’s never been able to speak about. Then, to her horror, her husband killed himself on that date.

A year later and a thousand miles away, Anna tries to find solace in the fresh start of a new job in a new place. She takes comfort in her outspoken cousin Jeannie, the confidant and best friend who’s there whenever she needs help. On the eve of the dreaded anniversary, Anna and Jeannie hit the town, planning to ease the pain with an alcohol-induced stupor and then sleep…

But when Anna awakes on the darkest day of her year, she has no idea that fate is about to intervene in the form of a pair of gruesome murders with eerie similarities to her violent past. This time, however, she won’t be an abandoned daughter or a grieving widow. This time, she’ll be a suspect.

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Journey to Death
Thomas & Mercer
February, 2016

Description

Lucy Hall arrives in the Seychelles determined to leave her worries behind. The tropical paradise looks sun-soaked and picture-perfect—but as Lucy soon discovers, appearances can be very deceptive. A deadly secret lurks in the island’s history, buried deep but not forgotten. And it is about to come to light.

As black clouds begin to gather over what promised to be a relaxing family break, Lucy realizes that her father stands in the eye of the coming storm. A shadow from his past is threatening to destroy all that he holds dear—including the lives of his loved ones.

A dark truth is about to explode into their lives, and that truth is going to hit them right between the eyes.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Casualties - A Shout Out

A debut novel by Elizabeth Marro seeks to convey the damages of war through fiction, this time from the fresh perspective of a soldier’s mother. CASUALTIES (Berkley; February 2, 2016) reverberates with the timely and powerful themes of war, PTSD, and social responsibility that have made Phil Klay’s Redeployment, Roxana Robinson’s Sparta, and Billy Lynn’s Long  Half-time Walk so resonant. It is a heartbreaking and insightful look at the wars we fight overseas, at home, and within our own hearts.
 
What it’s about:
When her son returns home from Iraq, Ruth Nolan, an executive for a successful military defense contractor, feels it’s a chance to start over and mend their relationship. But an emergency at the office leads to a canceled lunch date, the last chapter in a series of missed connections between Ruth and the son she holds fiercely close. The next morning Robbie is found dead in a motel bathtub, leaving behind a tidy room and a note that says “I’m sorry for everything. It’s not your fault. I love you.” Without a backward glance, Ruth packs up Robbie’s ashes and drives east. Her grief is also complicated by her involvement in an industry that profits from war, and the heartbreaking revelation that the business she helped build was withholding life insurance payouts from military families.
 
Why you’ll care:
Marro explores the challenging terrain of mother-child relationships, marked as they are with hopes, missed opportunities, regrets, and in the end, the need for release and acceptance. As a civilian exploring the world of the military and defense industries, she often felt like she “did not have a right to go there.” But in piecing together Ruth’s story, Marro was forced to move past that feeling of “otherness,” and succeeds in offering a fresh perspective on the challenge of moving forward—even when you are a casualty of circumstances. CASUALTIES was a finalist for the 2014 San Diego Book Awards Association Contest under the category of unpublished novel.
 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Books of Possible Interest to You Coming out Soon!

Kensington, February 23, 2016


Below are some books that I have recently received.  

Three VERY different books. The first is a novel of small towns and lingering love. The second is a political satire set in the Old South.  The last book is set far into the future and challenges traditional gender roles.

 Some will, in the end receive a review, others I am just sharing with you as Shout-outs for you to choose if you wish to read them or not.   Regardless - enjoy!

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Welcome Back, A Smokey Mountain Novel
Lin Stepp

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains, Lin Stepp's sweet and touching story follows one woman's journey back to the home--and the husband--she left behind…

When Lydia Cunningham left her husband and moved to Atlanta ten years ago, it was with equal parts sadness and certainty. She loved her home in North Carolina, with its lush green hills and crisp, clean air. And in truth, she still loved John, too. But she could no longer live with her mother-in-law's constant criticism and the distance it created in her marriage.

Now, thanks to a job offer at her alma mater, Lydia is moving back, renting the old country house where she and John lived as newlyweds. She hopes to strengthen the frayed ties with her daughter, Mary Beth, and build a relationship with her grandsons. As for John--it's clear from the moment Lydia sees him standing in her doorway that he hopes they might rekindle their bond. The spark between them hasn't dimmed--but neither have Lydia's memories of past hurts. Yet in this magnificent landscape that's always felt like home, she might find a way to forgive and begin again…

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Story River Books, April 2016

All the Governor's Men
A Mountain Brook Novel


A political satire that reimagines George Wallace's last run for governor of Alabama.

It's the summer of George Wallace's last run for governor of Alabama in 1982, and the state is at a crossroads. In Katherine Clark's All the Governor's Men, a political comedy of manners that reimagines Wallace's last campaign, voters face a clear choice between the infamous segregationist, now a crippled old man in a wheelchair, and his primary opponent, Aaron Osgood, a progressive young candidate poised to liberate the state from its George Wallace–poisoned past.


Daniel Dobbs, a twenty-one-year-old Harvard graduate and South Alabama native, is one of many young people who have joined the campaign representing hope and change for a downtrodden Alabama. A political animal himself, Daniel possesses so much charm and charisma that he was nicknamed "the Governor" in college. Now he is engaged in the struggle to conquer once and for all the malignant man Alabamians have traditionally called "the Governor."


This historic election isn't the only thing Daniel wants to win. During his senior year, he fell in love with a freshman girl from Mountain Brook, the "Tiny Kingdom" of wealth and privilege, a world apart from his own Alabama origins. A small-town country boy, Daniel desperately wants to gain the favor of his girlfriend's family along with her mentor, the larger-than-life English teacher Norman Laney. Daniel also wants to keep one or two ex-girlfriends firmly out of the picture. In the course of his summer, he must untangle his complicated personal life, satisfy the middle-class dreams of his parents for their Harvard-educated son, decide whether to enter law school or launch his own political career, and, incidentally, help his candidate defeat George Wallace in a close and increasingly dirty race.


All the Governor's Men is a darkly comic look at both the political process in general and a significant political chapter in Alabama history. This second novel in Katherine Clark's Mountain Brook series depicts the social and political landscape of an Alabama world that is at once a place like no other and at the same time a place like all others.

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CreateSpace, December 2015
A Tale of Moral Corruption

How does a successful man plummet into a world of male escorts, kinky sex, and barbaric death matches?

In this female-dominated world, 28-year-old Mason is comfortable with his job as a tax clerk. His real ambition is to be a loving father and supportive husband. He's especially looking forward to wearing the new artificial womb that so many men have strapped on their bellies. But first, Mason must be chosen as a husband.

He's listed on the Approved Partner Registry, a website that profiles men and their qualifications. It's used by successful businesswomen who don't have the time or inclination to date. Now it's a waiting game.

In the meantime, he volunteers at the company's co-op daycare. He keeps his body in good physical condition. He even took a remedial course with a sex surrogate when the registry listed him as a premature ejaculator. His diligence will pay off when he is selected as a mate.

But when he is dropped from the registry because of an indiscretion at work, his life begins to unravel and it doesn't look like anything can stop his fall from grace.

Saving Jason - Spotlight, Podcast and Excerpt

Saving Jason - Michael SearsSaving Jason
Michael Sears
G.P. Putnam's Sons
February 2, 2016

Click HERE to listen to a podcast on CrimeFiction.FM

Click HERE to read an excerpt

Book Description:
The latest Jason Stafford novel from Michael Sears, author of the highly acclaimed Long Way Down and Black Fridays.

Jason Stafford used to be a hot Wall Street trader, went too far, and paid for it in prison. Now a financial investigator, he’s been asked to look into rumors of a hostile takeover of his firm, but he has no idea it will turn his whole life upside down. Suddenly embroiled in a grand jury investigation of Mob-related activities on Wall Street, and threatened by some very serious men, he is thrust into witness protection with his young autistic son. And then his son disappears. Has he been kidnapped, or worse? With no choice but to act, Stafford has no choice but to come out of hiding and risk everything to save his son, his firm, his pregnant girlfriend—and himself.

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About the Author

Michael Sears was sixty-one when his first novel, Black Fridays, was published. After nine years as a professional actor, he got an MBA from Columbia University and spent more than twenty years on Wall Street, rising to become the managing director in the bond trade and underwriting divisions of Paine Webber and, later, Jefferies & Co., before heeding his father’s advice: “When it stops being fun, get out.” He did so in 2005, and returned to what had always given him the greatest joy—writing—studying at NYU and the New School.

The temptations that drag down some of his characters are well known to him, as are the insider-trading perils that form the core of the new novel. The autism is known to him, too, from his extended family, and he has seen the struggles and the rewards.