Nancy Kricorian, Author
Nancy Kricorian, Author Atlantic Monthly Press $23 (237p) ISBN 978-0-87113-705-0
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Zabelle, the resilient heroine of poet Kricorian's haunting first novel, survives the 1915 Armenian genocide, goes into an orphanage and becomes a cook in a Turkish household before wealthy compatriots marry her off to a hard-working grocer in Watertown, Mass. In the Boston suburbs, Zabelle finds herself battling her old-world mother-in-law (a woman with ""a stiff iron brush for a soul""), working in a shirt factory and reconciling herself to a loveless union with a bore. She falls silently in love with a co-worker, but he moves away; when they meet again, he too is unhappily married. In secret, he and Zabelle declare their devotion and exchange one chaste kiss. Just when the sweet sorrow of Zabelle's tale begins to cloy, her spirited childhood friend Arsinee resurfaces and lends some spice to the mix. Drawn together by their exile, the women relish each other's company, sharing disappointments and joys. Much to Zabelle's disgust, her beloved firstborn grows up to be a self-righteous prig who sheds his name, telltale nose and heritage in a quest for televangelical fame. Toward the novel's conclusion, there is a rollicking episode in which the two women attempt, through witchcraft, to banish a mother-in-law's spirit, and hilarity erupts when two families, brought together by a wedding, try to bridge a cultural divide as wide as an ocean. Armenian phrases abound (Vay babum! appears to be a synonym for Holy Toledo!), prompting one to yearn for a glossary, but the lasting impressions of this bittersweet story linger in the echoes of its spare, elegant prose. (Jan.)
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