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Like Water on Stone    by Dana Walrath order for
Like Water on Stone
by Dana Walrath
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dana Walrath's Like Water on Stone is an account, in free verse, of the 1914 Armenian genocide in Turkey, from the points of view of three young people and of the eagle Ardziv who watches all unfold from on high and muses: 'Hate makes jagged spikes of light, / and blame can crack the sky.'

Young musician Shahen Donabedian (whose father teaches him to play the oud) dreams of going to New York - his uncle repeatedly exhorts him to come, but his father is against it. Shahen fears for his family, Christians in a beleaguered empire of Muslim Ottoman Turks that had targeted his people before in 1895. His twin sister Sosi has fallen for Vahan, who is 'almost old enough to serve' in the Ottoman army. They both adore their small sister Mariam.

What follows reminds me somewhat of Fiddler on the Roof, as Armenian persecution and imprisonment by the Turks escalates. But their father insists that 'The voice of the people is louder / than the boom of the cannon' even as friends and neighbors flee and his wife argues his decision to stay. As matters worsen and their older brothers are taken by the Turks (only Ardziv sees their fate), their parents dress Shahen as a girl for his safety.

As the eagle watches the father realizing his mistake, Ardziv (who has lost his own fledglings) tells us: 'I made a promise / to the empty sky. / These three young ones / would not die.' And he watches over the three youngest children of the family as they flee by night high in the mountains to the southwest and across the Euphrates, to where someone can help them get to their uncle in New York.

Ardziv witnesses their arrival - after many hard trials and adventures and with help from good people along the way - in New York Harbor. Given its subject, Like Water on Stone is not easy to read, but it is lyrically presented, uplifting, and well worth the effort.

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