FINALIST FOR THE 2014 NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
FINALIST FOR THE 2015 DAYTON LITERARY PEACE PRIZE

January 8, 2016 Interview with The Rumpus read... 

“Toumani’s emotional responses to her experience in Turkey, and her honesty in navigating and describing them, lend her story the authority that can come only from a storyteller who recognizes that history is a matter of both fact and feeling. Although this book offers plenty of insight — funny, affectionate, often frustrated — into a unique diasporic culture, Toumani is ultimately less interested in what makes a person Armenian, Turkish or anything else than in what can happen when we start to think beyond those national identities."

—Joanna Scutts, THE WASHINGTON POST

 

“[A] superb narrative... Toumani, with admirable courage and the enviable skills of a more experienced historian, has written a memoir that delicately walks the line between the subjective nature of memoir and the objective details of the past.”

—Meganne Fabrega, THE STAR TRIBUNE

 

“There Was and There Was Not is a profound and nuanced work about what it costs to remember the past and what it costs trying to forget it.”

—David Burr Gerrard, BIOGRAPHILE

 

A "sensitive, inquiring account ... Toumani casts an unsparingly honest gaze on her own motivations, endlessly trying to find the merit in the other person’s point of view (even, as she discovers to her horror, that of the top Turkish genocide-denier), though she can also be very funny. ... Toumani risks the ire of both sides by 'tampering,' as she puts it, 'with the story we had all agreed to tell.' Although it cost her some peace of mind, she has shown considerable courage in doing so."

—Christopher de Bellaigue, THE NEW YORK TIMES

 

"Audacious" and "compelling" ... "Ms. Toumani’s stirring memoir lends hope that reconciliation, imperfect though it may be, can at last be achieved."

THE ECONOMIST

 

“[A] clear-eyed, nuanced memoir… As Toumani bravely exposes the fissures in her thinking about identity, she is also cautiously optimistic that Turks are moving toward recognizing what happened in 1915.”

—Judy Bolton-Fasman, THE BOSTON GLOBE

 

"Impressively researched, passionately pursued, and elegantly written, There Was and There Was Not is a beautiful and important read not just for Armenians and Turks on the 100th anniversary of the tragic genocide; but for all of humanity in an era where we face difficult decisions on how – and on whose terms, and with what ends in mind – to move forward toward a collective future."

—Hans Rollman, POPMATTERS

 

"This remarkable memoir serves as a moving examination of the complex forces of ethnicity, nationality and history that shape one’s sense of self and foster, threaten or fray the fragile tapestry of community."

KIRKUS REVIEWS (starred review)

 

"A profound meditation on tribalism and truth."

ELLE: "Elle's Lettres Readers' Prize" (text from print issue)

 

"Sometimes personal histories retain a potent electromagnetic force. Armenian-American journalist Meline Toumani's extraordinary There Was and There Was Not (Metropolitan Books) tackles the legacy of the 1915 Armenian genocide, opening provocative lines of inquiry into the identities we inherit, and transform." 

—Megan O'Grady, VOGUE (text from print issue)

 

“An extraordinary portrait of Turkish society.”

—Elisabeth Donnelly, FLAVORWIRE “10 Must-Read Books for November”

 

“This brave and balanced personal narrative will be a welcome addition to the canon of books written about the century of hatred between Turks and Armenians.”

—LIBRARY JOURNAL (starred review)

 

“An engaging and deeply personal exploration of ethnicity, nationalism, history and identity…. There Was and There Was Not is neither a history of the genocide nor an examination of its political ramifications for the modern world. It is the story of one woman's attempt to understand her community, its fundamental assumptions, and herself. Written in a conversational style that is by turns heart-wrenching and unexpectedly funny, There Was and There Was Not will appeal not only to those interested in questions of the Armenian genocide but to readers interested in the larger questions of how individuals define themselves within communities and how communities define themselves”

—Pamela Toler, SHELF AWARENESS

 

"... A humanistic approach to the fraught relations between Turks and Armenians. Toumani lived in Turkey and learnt Turkish, relating the sometimes difficult interactions in her book, which is a mix of reportage, memoir, and essay. With the centenary of 1915 fast approaching, we can learn much from Toumani’s insightful account."

—Joshua Allen, THE GUIDE ISTANBUL, BOOKISH BRILLIANCE: THE BEST OF 2014

Print and Online Interviews:

 

Biographile: "A Tale of Two Countries" read...

 

Shelf Awareness: "Genocide and Narrative Ambiguity" read...

 

Kirkus Reviews: Cover story and interview read...

 

BookSoup Blog: "5 Questions with Author Meline Toumani" read...

 

The New School Writing Program's NBCC Awards Interviews: Q&A on the writing process read...

 

 

Radio, Podcast, and TV Interviews: 

 

The Kojo Nnamdi Show, WAMU Washington, D.C. listen...

 

NPR Weekend Edition listen...

 

The Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC New York, NY listen...

 

A Public Affair (host Yuri Rashkin), WORT Madison, WI listen...

 

Press Play (host Barbara Bogaev), KCRW Santa Monica, CA listen...

 

The Monocle Weekly on Monocle 24 (starting at 24:50), London, U.K. listen...

 

To The Point (host Warren Olney), KCRW Santa Monica listen...

 

The Sunday Edition (host Michael Enright), CBC Radio listen... 

 

Forum (host Michael Krasny), KQED San Francisco listen...

 

Sunday (host Edward Stourton), BBC Radio 4 listen...

 

Up Close (host Steven I. Weiss), The Jewish Channel TV watch...

 

 

Other Press for There Was and There Was Not:

 

Discussed in "Transcending the Nationalism of the Armenian Genocide Debate" by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Al Jazeera America

 

Discussed in "A Long Memory, a Longer Road to Reconciliation," Lehigh University News

 

Discussed in "Remembering the Armenian Genocide," Kirkus Reviews

Advance praise for There Was and There Was Not:

 

“In this courageous and candid memoir, Meline Toumani reflects on what it really means—and does not mean—to come into the inheritance of a tragic past; on the complex feelings involved in confronting a historical enemy and Other; and on what we owe—and do not owe—to our collective identities, and what to ourselves. Writing with precise insight and wit, Toumani addresses issues that weave through traumatic histories everywhere, and that continue to concern us all.”

—Eva Hoffman, author of After Such Knowledge: Memory, History and the Legacy of the Holocaust

 

“This is a brave book, deeply intelligent and elegantly readable, providing a much needed fresh point of view. Anyone genuinely interested in the relations between Armenians and Turks, a subject that continues to be clouded by politics, must read it. In a meticulous, clarifying, and highly informed accounting, Toumani gives a personal perspective on the hate-filled relationship that persists between those Armenians who insist that the genocide be recognized and those Turks who adamantly deny the historical truth of the genocide. I could not put it down.”

—Eric Bogosian, author of Operation Nemesis

 

“Meline Toumani has written an unusual book: courageous, intriguing, and at moments, despite its subject, unexpectedly funny. And her determination to understand and put behind her a century of hatred has echoes for more peoples than just Turks and Armenians.”

—Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918

 

“Meline Toumani’s inspiring book cuts through the fog of politics surrounding the Armenian genocide with honesty, intelligence, and humanity. I was very impressed by the charm, humor, and bravery she displays in her relationships with Turks from all sides of the political spectrum, as well as her willingness to examine the assumptions of her fellow diaspora Armenians.”

—Ruth Franklin, author of A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction

 

“Meline Toumani’s beautifully rendered memoir is a powerful reminder of how family histories can constrain as much as they enhance our understanding of the world.  This is a remarkable, vital, and perhaps above all courageous investigation into history, culture, and the human heart.”

—Dinaw Mengestu, author of All Our Names

 

“This deft combination of political and personal narrative is an attempt to cross one of the modern world’s most sensitive divides. With warmth and feeling, it shows why so many people and nations are imprisoned by the past, and what can happen when they set themselves free.”

—Stephen Kinzer, author of Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds

 

“I read Meline Toumani’s original and audacious book with admiration, first for the grainy pleasures of her narrative—the raw energy of true encounters—and perhaps even more for her nerve and seriousness in trying, as an Armenian-American woman, to find a path between the often-self-defeating absolutism of her own Armenian community and the Orwellian evasions of most contemporary Turks when asked to acknowledge the plain act of long-ago genocide in plain language.”

—Michael J. Arlen, author of Passage to Ararat

MELINETOUMANI