Reviewed by Angela Wauchop
“[…] Vrezh stomped the blood-red flags with enthusiasm […] The older boys poured kerosene on the heap of Turkish flags, and the crowd sang memorials to bloodied soldiers for their homeland […] Even then Vrezh sensed these rituals were bound up in the meaning of his name – revenge.”
There is something unique about Ashley Kalagian Blunt’s My Name is Revenge. The way the book is structured is certainly refreshing, and comprises a short story, photographs, and non-fiction essays. But it is the confronting subject of the Armenian genocide during the First World War that showcases the engrossing pull of this important and occasionally uncomfortable to read literary work.
The book begins with the story of twenty-one-year-old Vrezh, who lives in Sydney with his family – a family whose traumatic history of loss and displacement dates back to the murder of over one million Armenians at the hands of the Turks in World War I. Whilst the characters in the short story are fictional, the world events are real. We learn of Vrezh, his brother Armen and the turmoil of their lives around the time of the assassination of the Turkish consul-general in Sydney in December 1980. The story is fast-paced and short but is intertwined with unexpected twists and satisfying yet troubling turns that do not disappoint.
Ashley Kalagian Blunt successfully draws upon and includes some of her ancestors’ own experiences and recollections of the horror and atrocities that were perpetrated by the Ottoman government in 1915. The work of fiction stands alone, but the book’s fortification lies within the author’s accompanying essays. These strong works enhance the grittiness of the plot and imperfection of the characters in the preceding short story.
The book is interspersed with beautiful black and white photographs which add to the cultural richness and overall experience of reading My Name is Revenge. But the real richness for a reader like me is in what I learned. I learned that denial of atrocities is described as ‘the final phase of genocide’, and that the Armenian genocide is, in some ways, linked to the subsequent Holocaust of World War II. I learned that there is a memorial to the Armenian victims of genocide in the Peace Garden at Parliament House in New South Wales. I was especially stunned to learn that some Anzacs helped several Armenians escape the genocide in 1915, but I also learned that the reality of ‘resolving violence with more violence’ is still alive and well. And Kalagian Blunt appropriately asks us how it would feel ‘to be raised to hate because your family had been the victims of hate’.
She predicts, “I will probably be writing about the Armenian genocide for the rest of my life, working to keep it alive in cultural memory, not only because it is a part of my story, but because it is a part of everyone’s story.”