Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Gendarme - Mark Mustian

The Gendarme
by Mark Mustian
Oneworld Publications, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

The Gendarme entices the reader into a narrative replete with diverging realities and themes. A World War One veteran who has been diagnosed with a brain tumor experiences a forgotten, distant reality through dreams. With detailed flashbacks, the march of Armenians being deported from Turkey eclipses the present life of Emmet Conn. The Armenian girl with mismatched eyes becomes Conn's objective of a second journey - that of finding her and reconciling himself with an important sliver of the past.

The journey to Aleppo is fraught with violence, illness and spite which descends into hatred. It is also a stage which exposes the brutality of the powerful over the helpless. One cannot help but wonder whether the gendarme would have altered his personality had the girl with mismatched eyes been missing from the scene. But as with many other instances in life, a slight difference in a mundane reality can change perception, and the change in perception brings about a change in character, who now felt a sense of responsibility and protection towards the deportees.

The novel explores memory and the way it is altered by experiences, the assimilation and change of personal identity. Emmet Conn was born Ahmet Khan, but upon his arrival in the United States, his name is Americanised, eliminating the identity that was his birthright. Another theme is the common mistake of categorising people and the assumption that recollections through dreams are a side effect of medication, thus eliminating the essential identity that makes each person unique due to the realities experienced in life.

Above all, the parallel themes of political borders and love are a reminder that wars, conflict and borders may continue threatening to split the world into confines restricted by travel and citizenship, elaborated on maps and identified by the language of the patriot. However, the shallow and hypocritical nature of political borders falls prey to its own manacles, distorting itself in the echoes of humanity that bore the scars, embraced a loss and returned to the philosophy of peaceful survival.

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