A desire to understand the dark force that allows people to participate in a genocide led Mark Mustian to choose a Turk rather than an Armenian as the narrator of his novel, The Gendarme. The choice may appear unusual at first, since Mustian is of Armenian heritage himself.
“Perhaps it comes from being a lawyer,” he said, “or having an Armenian heritage that’s more distant, but I wanted to explore the mind of those that did this, the Turks that were escorting these people out of the country. I don’t think that they were intrinsically evil people, but I wanted to try to get inside the minds of those most would see as perpetrators.”
Mustian was inspired to write this novel after reading the book Black Dog of Fate, by Peter Balakian. That’s when he came to know the story of what happened to the Armenians at the beginning of WWI. After that, he read everything he could find on the Turkey, World War I, and the Armenians, and decided he wanted to write about the Armenian holocaust himself. “I wanted the world at large to know of it,” he said.
Mustian started the novel in 2003. He read a number of survivors’ accounts—those that made it out of Turkey, generally into Syria, but his research didn’t stop there. Eventually he visited Turkey and the Syrian city of Aleppo, following the paths the caravans had taken.
Readers are bound to notice one trait Mustian bestows on Araxie, the beautiful girl that the narrator Ahmet falls in love with: she has a one light eye and one dark. “I wanted Araxie to stand out to Ahmet, to seem to him particular and different from the other deportees,” Mustian said. “But perhaps more than that, the mismatched colors are emblematic in a sense of the many dualities embraced by the novel: Christian/Muslim, Turk/Armenian, man/woman, sad/funny, good/bad.”
Like many aspiring authors, Mustian found the path to publication challenging. He published an earlier novel through Pineapple Press, but The Gendarme was his first with a major publisher. Finding an agent took three years. “Once I hooked up with him, things moved much quicker,” Mustian said.
He is pleased by the novel’s reception. “I feel very fortunate in the defying the odds to get here, and can only attribute it to hard work, perseverance, luck, and hopefully a little talent,” he said.
Mustian feels his publisher, Amy Einhorn at Putnam, is doing a fantastic job of promoting the book. The foreign editions are starting to come out now, and the audio book was also recently released. “It’s quite strange and exciting to hear an actor speaking words that you’ve written,” Mustian said.
While The Gendarme wound its way through the channels to publication, Mustian finished another novel, a Civil War-era piece. “I’ll be pitching in a few weeks to Amy at Putnam, and I hope we’ll have the opportunity to work together again,” he said.