One of the reasons I love reading historical fiction is that, not only does it entertain, but quite often it educates as well. The book written by today’s guest on What Cathy Read Next is a case in point. Author M N Mekaelian’s book, Choose to Rise: The Victory Within, takes as its subject the Armenian Genocide. I know very little about that period of history – other than the fact that, for political reasons, the UK government is yet to officially recognise it as a genocide. So I was intrigued enough to accept the author’s offer to read the book. Unfortunately, that won’t be for a little while yet but, in the meantime, I’m delighted to bring you two extracts from the book.
About the Book
Choose to Rise begins in 1971, when Professor Vartan Hagopian has a stroke. With the family around Vartan, now comatose in a hospital bed, the doctor mentions a name Vartan called out prior to the attack – Nadia. The mention of her name prompts Armen, Vartan’s younger brother, to tell the haunting story of their youth. Choose to Rise then opens in 1913, two years before the Armenian Genocide. The sultan has been overthrown and a new government – the Young Turks – has taken control. They rule with a promising hand, yet overtax and subjugate the Armenians who just want equal rights. Then, as World War One breaks out in 1914, the situation changes and conditions worsen. When 1915 approaches, the government’s plan for the Armenians becomes quite clear, forcing Vartan and Armen to find the courage and inner strength necessary to overcome the brutality.
Format: ebook (437 pp.), paperback (436 pp.) Published: 4th March 2017 Genre: Historical Fiction
Find Choose to Rise: The Victory Within on Goodreads
Extract: Choose to Rise by M N Mekaelian
I didn’t respond. If that was the best he could do, I decided to abandon our lazy argument. Now uncaring and distracted, I occupied myself at the back of the cart and watched as the dirt road to the church lengthened as we crawled over it, creating a small trail of dust that would eventually settle over the rolling green pastures. Like a net, the natural scenery around it captured my fullest attention. Something about the beauty mesmerized me: the soft, dancing slopes, the green grass, the dark-blue sky above. The peace of it all. For that moment, as the uplifting and warm breeze moved around my body, I closed my eyes and listened as the wooden wheels turned and felt each rock we passed over.
Simplicity. I had found it.
Once I opened my eyes, I faced forward and watched as we neared the landmark of the area – an old bare tree, uniformly thick that, long ago, bore fruit. Stocky and twisted, it stood alone near the edge of a pasture where a herd of sheep flocked with their shepherds – five Turkish boys that I knew.
I stood up, keeping my balance, and waved to them. From atop their donkeys, with their long, thin sticks in hand, they waved back, smiling, happy to see us once again.
As Armenians who spoke the Armenian language, ate Armenian food, partook in Armenian culture, and lived in our own granted state of Armenia, it was still common for us to also speak the Ottoman Turkish language and adopt parts of the Turkish culture. This came as a direct result of the Moslem Turks and Christian Armenians readily intertwining their everyday lives within the Ottoman Empire.
Thrilled to have seen my Turkish friends once again, I sat back down with satisfaction as we continued to crawl over the scattered stones of the road until we arrived at the edge of the churchyard, to Soorp Asdvadzadzin, our church.
“Armen, listen to me. We have one chance to get out of here, and we have to do it right now. Are you ready?”
His heart beat rapidly. He was scared. I heard it in his voice. I nodded my head.
Immediately, Vartan sprung up and so did I. I sprung up so fast, in fact, that my foot slipped and I lost traction. I threw my arms out and tried to catch myself but fell backwards and hit my forearm on the windowsill. The adrenaline in my body was too great for me to care, so I pushed myself off and plowed through the door after my brother. It flung open, making a hollow woody sound and quickly rocked back to equilibrium. I then jumped off the porch and onto the frosty ground. Everything about our escape was rough; it was loud, hastily arranged, and anything but covert. Upon seeing us, the soldiers snapped their reins high and whistled. They kicked their heels into their horses and started a swift gallop towards us. With one leap from behind, Vartan mounted the horse and I grabbed his hand from the side. With a swinging motion, he pulled me up and we began our escape.
Lowering his chin to the back of the horse’s neck, Vartan reached behind him and pointed to the ground.
“Keep your head down!” he exclaimed. “We’ll go faster!”
As I lowered my head as close to the horse as I could, we increased our speed and I felt the hair of the horse cut through the cold wind as the steady beat of her breath froze in the air. My eyes quickly began to water and I blinked hard to get rid of the tears just so I could see. I then turned to look behind us and the soldiers in the lead took out their pistols and aimed them at us
“Gun!” I screamed. “Vartan! Gun!”
At that moment, a blast went off, and I felt a bullet whiz by so close to my head that I felt it inside my ear. The horse neighed at the disruption as the bullet struck the ground in front of us. Waking up to the realization that all this was, indeed, my living reality, I immediately raised my hand and touched the side of my head to see if I’d been struck. Vartan, too, turned and checked.
“I’m fine!” I screamed. “Go!”
One after the other, and sometimes two at a time, the bullets screamed past us as we rode away. The dirt around us jumped up as my body twisted and turned with the horse as we followed a curved path. The only thing on my mind was to escape. I had no time to think about anything else. Vartan had done a great job of making a getaway, and thus far, it was working.
About the Author
M N Mekaelian is of Armenian heritage. Choose to Rise is the author’s first book, inspired by family history and is the product of extensive historical research.
Connect with M N Mekaelian