The Gendarme by Mark Mustian – Book Review

The Gendarme by Mark Mustian
Published by Amy Einhorn Books, an imprint of Penguin

The first thing that caught my attention about “The Gendarme” was the arresting cover. I found it very reminiscent of the National Geographic cover of the Afghan girl, if a slightly less intense gaze. When I read the jacket copy and saw that it was about Turkey and the Armenians in WWI, I was totally sold.

And, although, it was not at all what I expected, “The Gendarme” did not disappoint.

Emmet Cohn was born Ahmet Khan in Turkey at the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, he does not remember much of anything before he woke up in a British hospital during World War I with severe head trauma. He made it to the United States due to the determination of his American nurse, whom he married. After a long life in which he considered himself American first and foremost, Emmet, 92 and recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, has become dreaming again of Turkey. Specifically, he is dreaming of being a gendarme – which is odd, because he is positive he was a Turkish solider, not a gendarme – who is taking a group of Armenians to Syria and is beguiled by an Armenian girl with two different colored eyes, Araxie.

I really enjoyed “The Gendarme,” the way it worked through memory, sins of the past, aging, sickness, duty, and repentance. The two storylines were worked together masterfully, particularly considering there was not always a visual cue of transition. One thing bled into another with ease and occasionally when the transition was overly quick, it was wonderfully evocative of exactly what Emmet must have been going through with his tumor and increasingly frequent lapses between waking and dreams. I adored the uncertainty – shared by Emmett himself – of whether or not we could trust him as a narrator, or whether him tumor and previous head trauma left him unreliable. There were times I felt that I shouldn’t buy the blossoming relationship between Emmett and Araxie, with all of the hardships between them, but Mustian wrote them so compellingly that I had a difficult time not believing their relationship, unlikely as it may have seemed.

In “The Gendarme,” Mustian blends history and the human spirit beautifully. Highly recommended.

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This review was done with a book received from BEA.
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17 comments to The Gendarme by Mark Mustian – Book Review

  • I have not heard of this book, but it sounds really interesting. I like it when their is an unreliable narrator, but you like them just the same. It seems to make the book more interesting. Sounds like a good one!

  • I had to skip to your last line. Phew! Glad you seemed to really like it. It’s our book club pick for our October meeting. Can’t wait to get started with it.

  • The cover really caught my attention too. To not know what really happened and what didn’t must be very scary.

  • I so want to read this book — and I agree with you, the cover is exactly like the National Geographic cover!!

  • I’ll be reading this one soon too and I’m really glad you liked it. I haven’t heard too much about it beyond the summary, in fact I think yours is the first review I’ve seen. Glad it’s positive. =)

  • Amy

    Yeah, so glad that you liked it :)

  • I really enjoyed this book, the mystique of Araxie, the atrocities, their relationship. But I felt like there was something missing. Emmett felt two dimensional to me. I would still recommend it though.

  • The cover and the title of this book call my name. I can’t wait to read it, but I need to wait a little while since it’s my book club’s October pick. If I read it too early, I’ll forget the details.

  • Thanks to this post I just went down to my TBR stash in the basement and found this ARC. Thanks for the tip! Have you ever read Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shakaf? Sue and I both loved it. Modern-day Turkish and Armenian-American cousins discover their family’s troubled history.

  • thought the same thing when I saw the cover. sounds interesting…

  • I liked this one a lot as well. Thanks for the great review.

  • That is the exact same thing that came to mind when I saw the cover at BEA. Typically, I’ll pick up a book and read the description before placing it in my bag. Not in this case. Based on the cover alone, I knew I had to read this one.

  • You sold me. On it goes to the TBBought list!!

  • Glad to hear that this one doesn’t disappoint; I’ve been looking forward to it. That Nat’l Geo cover is exactly what I thought of, too, as soon as I saw this cover.

  • Between Amy and you, I am sorely upset that I missed the chance to request this book. I need to remedy this soon!

  • Like you I enjoyed The Gendarme for its compelling truth on the Armenian genocide. I found the love story aspect though non believable. It did not strike me as a feasible since the surrounding history between the two main characters screamed otherwise. Ahmet weaves this tale of love but in fact it’s a tale of redemption for his own actions in the plight against her people.

    It is a very substantial read to discover yet I found the plausible love element hard to swallow. Would love to ply your thoughts so if you can jot me an email…. Or was I the only one who thought this?