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.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

This review was done with a book received from BEA.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell – Book Review

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
Published by Random House

The last thing Gail Caldwell expected to find when training her dog Clementine was a best friend, but that is exactly what she found in Caroline Knapp, and more. Gail and Caroline’s dog trainer suggested then spend some time together because they were so alike. Both women had puppies they’d gotten less than a year ago, they were both writers, both recovering alcoholics, athletic, and incredibly independent. From that fateful meeting, the women formed a lasting bond that would sustain them until Caroline’s death of lung cancer, a short time after being diagnosed.

Released earlier this August, “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” is getting a lot of buzz. While I was at BEA, a representative of Random House listed it as one of the publishing house’s top 5 picks for book clubs this coming year. I must say, for about 140 pages, I didn’t really see it, and that is a long time in a book that is less than 190 pages long.

It also took me about that long to realize what my problem was with it. “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” is billed as a memoir of Gail and Caroline’s friendship, but it was almost more of an extended essay about their friendship, without the strong narrative of many of my favorite memoirs. Not that Caldwell didn’t have a strong voice, she does, but her writing milieu is on the critical side. Caroline was the columnist and memoirist in their relationship. Knowing this I’m not surprised that “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” was so much more like an essay, but it did not grab me as quickly as a more narrative-driven version of this story might have.

Of course, I can imagine that in many was, the essay structure was easier to write than the narrative would have been. There is so much love and pain, friendship and grief in this story, that for Gail to have gone deep into the story of her relationship with Caroline might have been deeply painful. Unfortunately, the pain is much of what makes this story so compelling. It was during Caroline’s sickness and after her death, the last 40 or so pages, that “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” really came into its own. Suddenly the pages seemed to be almost turning themselves, and my heart was fully immersed in this story.

Although I’m sure it would have been infinitely more difficult to write, I wish that Caldwell had been able to infuse more of the emotion from the end of “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” into the beginning of the book. However, even though I more appreciated the book for what it was than truly loved it, I think it is a must-read for any woman who has lost a close friend.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound

This review was done with a book received at BEA.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.