Judith Saryan & Dana Walrath

The first English translation of Armenian author Zabel Yessayan's work, In the Ruins, written more than a century ago, and Like Water from a Stone, a new novel-in-verse for young adults about the Armenian genocide.

Zabel Yessayan's groundbreaking work, In the Ruins, will be officially released in English translation on March 8, 2016, International Women's Day. Yessayan emerged into the tumultuous, multiethnic world of late 19th century Constantinople at a time when Sultan Abdul Hamid unleashed his fury on both Christian minorities and the progressive elements of Ottoman society.

One of the first women from the Ottoman Empire to study overseas, she traveled to Paris at the age of 17 to study at the Sorbonne. She wrote her first novel The Waiting Room about an emigre North African Jewish woman who was married to a man with a terminal illness. Set in Paris, The Waiting Room explores themes that would become central to her work: exile, alienation, and the Other.

Her influential voice brought her to the attention of the Armenian religious leadership of Constantinople who asked her to join a delegation to provide relief for the victims of the 1909 massacres of Adana. She traveled to Adana and upon her return wrote her most powerful appeal for human rights, In the Ruins. Her experience in Adana and the uprising in the Balkans shaped her views of war, and in 1912-1913 she wrote Enough! which decried the horror of war on the innocent of both sides.

It is unclear whether the Turkish government had read any of her work, but nonetheless she was considered a potential danger. She was the only woman on the list of 250 Armenian intellectuals who were targeted for arrest and murder at the early stages of the Armenian Genocide. Yessayan eluded arrest and went into hiding in the city until she was able to escape to Bulgaria using a false identity. From Sophia to Baku to Paris and finally to Yerevan, she spoke out again and again against the forces of tyranny. Her outspoken support for fellow writers caught the attention of Stalin's henchmen. The target of another empire, she was arrested and sent to prison where she survived six years and then died in obscurity.

It is 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is crumbling into violence. 

Beyond Anatolia, in the Armenian Highlands, Shahen Donabedian dreams of going to New York. Sosi, his twin sister, never wants to leave her home, especially now that she is in love. At first, only Papa, who counts Turks and Kurds among his closest friends, stands in Shahen's way. But when the Ottoman pashas set in motion their plans to eliminate all Armenians, neither twin has a choice.

After a horrifying attack leaves them orphaned, they flee into the mountains, carrying their little sister, Mariam. But the children are not alone. An eagle watches over them as they run at night and hide each day, making their way across mountain ridges and rivers red with blood. 

Dana Walrath, an award-winning writer, artist and anthropologist, is a faculty member of University of Vermont's College of Medicine.

Event date: 
Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - 7:00pm
Event address: 
Porter Square Books
25 White St.
Cambridge, MA 02140
Like Water on Stone Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385743983
Availability: Available at Warehouse
Published: Ember - November 10th, 2015