Author Katerina Cosgrove introduces us to her new novel.
When I was in Armenia in 2002 researching my novel, I found a mountain lake so blue and wide it looked like a giant inland sea. On its pebbled shore sat an old man in a tattered straw hat, playing an ancient mandolin cobbled together with bits of string and Band-Aids. He closed his eyes and threw his head back as if he was totally alone, and at peace. When he looked again and saw me there, he said: Thank you for coming to this forgotten land.
And that’s how I came to write about the Armenian Genocide. In so doing, I learned and also wrote about Turkish politics, the Syrian desert, the world’s first death camp in Der ez Zor, Lebanon’s long civil war, a Palestinian suicide bomber, Israeli soldiers, torture chambers turned into nightclubs, and Beirut in the present-day, struggling to free itself from the past.
A forgotten story, the first Holocaust of the twentieth century. 1.5 million Armenians killed by Turks in 1915. A genocide still officially denied by the Turkish government, enshrined in Article 301 in the Penal Code, that makes it a crime to mention the mere word. A denial that has given rise to exiles, prison sentences and assassinations of those brave or foolhardy enough to question it.
My novel, BONE ASH SKY, follows the epic journey of an Armenian family who survive the Genocide and end up in Beirut during the civil war. The drama is seen through the eyes of an Armenian-American journalist, who comes back to the place of her birth to unravel the secrets of her grandparents, but particularly those of her dead father, who was a militia-man in the war.
I’ve long been anxious about whether I’m compassionate enough or mature enough or experienced enough to do justice to the immensity of this book’s themes, to such an important and controversial story. I think this is why it’s taken ten years for me to write the thing – or ‘the big beast of a novel’, as my agent fondly calls it. I tell myself it simply had to take that long: in that time I had a baby, lost my only sister to melanoma, and was diagnosed myself with the same cancer. I tell myself that all these life events happened for many reasons, and that one of those reasons was to make me a better writer, along with making me a better person.
But what is ‘better’? I think a little more of the answer has been revealed to me now. Or at least until something else happens, and life is turned on its head once more. ‘Better’ is seeing the sameness between people rather than their differences. It’s knowing that I can’t say categorically what I would do in similar circumstances, upbringing, hopelessness, pain. Would I maim, rape, kill? ‘Better’ is knowing that none of us is in any position to judge. That the waters of that lake are muddier than I ever imagined, that the soaring blueness I saw may be just a trick of the light. That we are all victims, all perpetrators – and sometimes both at the same time.
Being sick, and facing death, has taught me that much as we don’t like to admit it, we are all connected. And that the only hope of moving forward, and being free of guilt, and shame, and blame, is to acknowledge that. So, knowing this, I can say from my heart to yours that I too am a Turk, and an Israeli, and Palestinian. And we are all Armenians together.
Katerina has been a cafe owner, bookseller, university tutor and has completed a doctorate. Her first novel The Glass Heart was published to critical acclaim in 2000 and her novella Intimate Distance was one of the winners of the Griffith Review/CAL Novella Prize in 2012. Her current novel,Bone Ash Sky, is set during the Armenian Genocide, Lebanon’s civil war and Beirut in the present-day. She lives in Sydney with her husband and daughter and likes to read, needs to meditate and loves to swim in the ocean every day. You can contact Katerina at www.katerinacosgrove.com and www.facebook.com/AuthorCosgrove
Life Balance = Love. Family. Winter Swimming.
See a trailer for Bone Ash Sky here.