The Gendarme

Title: The Gendarme
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Published by: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
Release Date: September 2, 2010
Pages: 304
ISBN13: 978-0399156342


To those around him, Emmet Conn is a 92 year old man on the verge of senility. A World War I veteran, he’s been affected by memory loss since being injured in the war. Now, at the end of his life, he’s beset by visions—frightening and realistic, he’s convinced they are memories of events he and others have denied or purposely forgotten.

In Emmett’s dreams he’s a gendarme, escorting Armenian women and children from Turkey. A young woman among them, Araxie, captivates and enthralls him. She becomes the love of his life. But then the trek ends, the war separates them. He is injured. Seven decades later, as his grasp on the boundaries between past and present begin to break down, he sets out on a final journey, to find Araxie, and beg her forgiveness.

Alternating between Turkey at the dawn of the 20th century and America in the 1990s, The Gendarme shows how racism creates divisions where none truly exist, how love can transcend nationalities and politics, and how the human spirit fights to survive in the face of hopelessness. It is a transcendent novel.


"Though we try to deny it, the past comes to get us in the end. It certainly comes for 92-year-old Emmett Conn after he is rushed to the hospital, felled by a tiny brain tumor. Emmett starts having dark and unsettling dreams of refugees marched through a barren landscape and dying off in droves owing to hunger, thirst, dysentery, and the whims of the gendarmes herding them. These aren't dreams but suppressed memories; Emmett is actually Ahmet Khan, a soldier in the Ottoman Army during World War I who was evacuated to London—he was mistaken for a British soldier—and then wed by an American nurse, who brought him stateside. What Ahmet is now recalling is his participation in the Armenian genocide. Yet on that march he scraped together enough humanity to rescue the charismatic Araxie, with whom he fell in love. VERDICT First novelist Mustian writes relentlessly, telling his haunting story in brief bursts of luminous yet entirely unsentimental prose and reminding us that, when life gets bloody, we had better watch out for our own humanity."
—Library Journal (Starred Review)

"Every decade or so, I find a novel that I sense, just by reading the basic description, will become unforgettable; after reading only 20 pages of The Gendarme, my impression was confirmed with great force. For this decade, and this reader, The Gendarme is that extraordinary, unforgettable novel..."

"Mustian...tells a story that probes a timeless array of life's general adversities: the tricks of memory that enable us to carry on with our daily existence; the brash decisions and subsequent regrets of the young; the ever present need for forgiveness; the way a single event can be subject to many interpretations."
—The New York Times Book Review

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All my life, people have asked if I am Armenian. I’ve always replied that I am, that most names ending in “-ian” reflect the old Armenian word meaning “son,” though my Armenian heritage is distant—my paternal great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War. Until I reached my thirties I never thought much about my ancestry, until one day someone asking this same question also asked if I had read Peter Balakian’s book Black Dog of Fate. I hadn’t, and did. I learned then the awful fate of the Armenians at the beginning of World War I, and of those, including Peter’s grandmother, who survived the forced trek into Syria. I was mesmerized, and read more.

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“These things I know: I served in the Ottoman army, I was part of a unit. I fought the British at what they call Gallipoli. I was wounded, my face and head and clothes so battered I was mistaken for a British soldier. I was evacuated to a British hospital ship, then a military facility in London. I have admissions slips, dates, facts. I have lost memory, yes, but these things are documented. And then this dream comes, this fantasy, but I see no soldiers. This could be any place. Any time.”