Volume VI, Issue 4


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A Photograph as a Memento
Written by Maria Martirosova
CompassGuide, 2012, 80 pp.
ISBN: 978-5-904561-91-8
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This well-received Russian book for young readers was a finalist for The Incredible Dream Award (2006) even before it was published. In 2012, it received the Children’s Choice of the Book of the Year Award, and in 2013, the White Ravens Award (International Children’s Library, Munich). The book tells the story of the Armenian diaspora in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, one of the former republics of the Soviet Union. Traditionally, Baku was an international city where many different ethnic groups lived together for centuries. Armenians in Baku were an important part of the community. Historically, there were not many friendships between Muslim Azeri and Christian Armenians, but locally many families peacefully lived next to each other.

The main character and the narrator of the book is Margo Manukian, an Armenian girl who grew up in Baku. The first part of the book is the memories of her father’s childhood as reflected in old photographs. One of her father’s friends was an amateur photographer, and the image of photography as a treasure chest of memories is pivotal for the book. The friends from the various families—Azeri, Armenian, Jewish, and Russian—lived in the same apartment building. They tirelessly played soccer despite the difficulties of life in the Soviet Union after World War II. Many of them lost their fathers in the War.

The second part of the book is set in the late 1980s. The political events of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict during the early years of Perestroika and the break-up of the Soviet Union change the situation drastically. The main conflict is around Nagorny Karabach, which after being a part of Azerbaijan during the Soviet era, became an Armenian territory. Animosity grows, and Armenians flee from Baku. Now Margo is the only Armenian among her Azerbaijani classmates, and is a subject of their hatred. Azeri refugees are also arriving from Armenia. Some of them are in Margo’s school. Strangely, they do not hate Margo; on the contrary, they want to talk to her in Armenian, their second language.

Margo’s father, a well-known journalist, does not want to go anywhere, and is killed during the unrest in Baku. Margo and her mother are forced to leave their home and move to a Russian town up north. Margo’s mother dies from heart disease, and one of her father’s old friends adopts Margo. In the process of that adoption, Margo learns that she is actually not Armenian. She was adopted by her Armenian parents–but is Armenian in her heart. Margo and her new father immigrate to the United States. Here, years later, Margo, now a young photographer, tries to reconcile herself with the past with the help of mementos from home, old photographs of her father and his friends of all ethnic groups.

Maria Martirosova is a writer and an educator. She was born in Baku, and now lives in Russia, in the small town of Klin. She has published several novels for young readers. This book could be paired with William Saroyan’s books, such as My Name Is Aram (Capuchin Classics, 2009), as further reading about the Armenian diaspora in the United States. A contemporary Armenian writer who writes in Russian, Narine Abgaryan, recently published her young readers’ novel Manunya (Astrel, 2014) about Armenia in the 1980s.

This powerful, poignant, and at the same time uplifting, story explores the roots of ethnic conflicts and hatred and suggests a way to overcome them.

Olga Bukhina, International Association for the Humanities, New York, NY

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