Beguiling and provocative, a young Armenian American goes deep into enemy territory to confront a past of history and hatred
Meline Toumani, an ethnic Armenian, grew up in New Jersey surrounded by unabashed hatred for Turks and Turkey, which was fostered at Armenian school, church, and summer camp. As she came of age, she began to feel constricted by the dogma—at Armenian gatherings, the genocide of 1915 and Turkey’s denial of it was all anyone talked about. Driven by intense curiosity about this “other,” whose certainty of the past clashed so profoundly with her own, Toumani sets out to encounter the people she was raised to despise.
Toumani’s journey takes her from one universe of obsession to another, to Turkey. Settling in Istanbul, she builds a complicated life of fraught friendships. In Turkish classes and homes, at the remains of Armenian villages, among dissidents, scholars, journalists, and bureaucrats, she attempts to connect, to talk, and to listen, exploring how ethnic hatred can travel across time and space, growing stronger with each new generation.
There Was and There Was Not—a phrase that throughout the Middle East signals the start of a fable—is a story about the conflicting narratives left to us by history. With eloquence and power, Toumani probes questions that are at the heart of such conflicts the world over: how to acknowledge a tragedy without exploiting it, how to honor one’s past without being imprisoned by it, and how to remember a genocide without perpetuating the hatred that gave rise to it in the first place.