The Best Contemporary Fiction of 2013
Bone Ash Sky
Hardie Grant Books
When Anoush Pakradounian steps off a boat and feels the Levantine heat on her cheek like a caress, she thinks she knows what she has come to Beirut to do: bear witness to her long dead father’s trial for war crimes, and discover the truth behind years of secrets and lies.
Yet nothing about her family is black and white. Anoush is poised to unravel four generations of war, genocide, love and renewal amongst the relics of her past.
In 1915 one million Armenians were marched into Syria by the Turkish and killed in the first genocide of the twentieth century. In 1982 Beirut came under Israeli siege for three months with thousands killed. Anoush’s quest for answers is interwoven with the memory of ruined cities and vanished empires: Lake Van before the genocide, Beirut in civil war, Ottoman villas and desecrated churches, Palestinian refugee camps and torture chambers turned into nightclubs. Her search to find out the truth about her father, her grandparents, and her own place in the story spans three generations against the backdrop of war and genocide in the Middle East.
With echoes of Barbara’s Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, Bone Ash Sky is a powerful work that examines family, loyalty, love, and secrets long-hidden in the chaos and horror of war.
For once I am speechless, words fail me. I cannot describe how incredibly good this book was to read – the prose so beautiful, the descriptions so eloquent and elegant and then…horrific. Cosgrove is a true storyteller – a master of words, of delicate prose and a teller of three dimensional stories; I could feel the silk, I could see the light refracted in the tulip shaped tumblers ( p.39 ) I can see and hear the death train (p.117) “There was an unfocused brutality in its movements in the sickening, shrill sound of wheels grinding on tracks…People started to scream; at least, those who were still well enough to expend the energy did. She screamed with them. The mechanical movement so final. It was more terrifying than anything else, this fiery beast that held them in its belly.” Echoes of the Holocaust.
I felt the sadness and despair as Lilit tried to think of a way to help the woman with the crying baby p. 117 “She knew the woman’s milk had dried up, knew the baby would soon die. But there was nothing she could do. She thought of latching the baby to her own small breasts, praying milk would come in sympathy, but, somehow, she was too tired. Too sleepy. Too indifferent. Too afraid of what the Turks might do again if they saw her.” Such hopelessness and despair. Such pain. Then… p.119 “Lilit saw the mother make for a well with the bundle of concealed baby under her arm. She was shaking now, her head jerking from side to side like a hen’s, the movement of her legs spasmodic….In an instant of despair, she dropped her baby like a wishing stone into the well. He would bring her good fortune. He cried too much. She was too tired to carry him anymore. There was no milk left to give him. She wanted him to drown, have a swifter, easier death.” So emotional, so real, so much pain, so much hopelessness.
It is the hopelessness that struck me more than anything. Having no choices. No existence. The endless cycle of violence based on nothing more than superstition, history, and prior bloodshed. Where no lessons learned?
Cosgrove states in the opening pages of this novel, “The historic circumstances in this novel are real. Many of the characters are not. This is a work of fiction and liberties have been taken with some dates, events and places.
The author does not seek to blame, defame or offend any race, creed or culture for their beliefs or their past and present actions. There are no villains in this story – and no heroes either.”
Such a poignant and remarkable multi-layered expose of society – past and present. What has changed? Not a lot. Truly sad, moving and memorable.