FINALIST FOR THE 2015 DAYTON LITERARY PEACE PRIZE

An Armenian-American goes to Turkey in a "love thine enemy" experiment that becomes a transformative reflection on how we use—and abuse—our personal histories.

 

There Was and There Was Not—a phrase that throughout the Middle East signals the start of a fable—is a story about the clashing narratives left to us by history. In this nonfiction work that blends memoir, essay and reportage, Meline Toumani, an ethnic Armenian raised in the U.S., examines the legacy of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

 

Frustrated by decades-long campaigns by Armenians around the world to convince governments to acknowledge the genocide, and by equally fanatical Turkish efforts to prevent such recognition, Toumani asks whether the Armenians’ objective is worth its emotional and intellectual price. She also asks the most confounding question: why can’t Turkey admit it? 

 

Beginning with her New Jersey childhood whose fondest moments were spent at a nationalistic Armenian summer camp, Toumani traces her journey from diaspora patriot to alienated cynic, a journey that eventually takes her to Turkey. Over the course of four years, she conducts interviews with Turkish scholars, visits the remains of Armenian villages, and builds a complicated life for herself in Istanbul, learning to speak Turkish and developing fraught but revealing friendships with Turks and Kurds. Her attempts to talk about the Armenian issue in a place where such conversations are not only taboo but often illegal form the heart of her personal quest and of this book.

 

Standing apart from Armenian genocide literature that seeks to prove what happened or to demonize Turkey, Toumani asks questions that are at the heart of conflicts the world over: how to belong to a community without conforming to it, how to acknowledge a tragedy without exploiting it, and most importantly how to remember a genocide without perpetuating the kind of hatred that gave rise to it in the first place.

 

Published November 4, 2014 by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt. 304 pages.

METROPOLITAN BOOKS/HENRY HOLT 

Published on November 4, 2014

ON SALE NOW!

Print and Online Interviews:

 

The Rumpus Interview read...

 

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

 

 

Go to Reviews...

MELINETOUMANI