NEW MILFORD, N.J.—On Wed., July 10, the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society of New Jersey hosted a discussion and book signing with Chris Bohjalian for his new novel The Light in the Ruins. The NY Times best-selling novelist spoke at the Hovnanian Armenian School in New Milford about his recent trip to historic Armenia as well as his inspirations for his new novel.
Bohjalian received great acclaim within both the Armenian and literary communities with last summer’s publication of The Sandcastle Girls, a captivating story of a woman who must delve into the history of the genocide in order to understand her past. The novel has been highly acclaimed since its release and has brought a great deal of attention to the Armenian cause. His newest work, The Light in the Ruins, tells a quite different, while at the same time extremely engrossing, narrative. Bohjalian himself described it at his own “Romeo and Juliet” story.
Both novels jump back and forth in time, slowly revealing different facets of the storyline. This works to create an effect that the author himself refers to as “dread.”
“There are moments when I’m practically on the edge of my seat and I keep saying ‘Don’t open the door! Don’t do it!’” Bohjalian said. This heart-wrenching feeling that comes with the foresight of characters’ decisions is what gives stories their substance, he explained.
Creating a compelling story requires a great deal of historical context and research, too. Creating lifelike characters and realistic scenarios for The Light in the Ruins took a lot of time, effort, and sometimes luck, Bohjalian said. He admits that aside from his own research, a friend’s uncle helped him to understand how police investigations were conducted in the 50s in Italy, where The Light in the Ruins is set. Bohjalian seemed thrilled by the documents and facts he had uncovered during his research.
Bohjalian’s ardent interest in preservation and history were also reflected in his description of his recent trip to historic Armenia. Bohjalian spent time visiting sites that were previously monasteries, churches, and cemeteries, but that now bear little resemblance to their original facades because of extreme desecration and destruction, which was sometimes committed very recently. His powerful descriptions made his cultural immersion truly come to life for the audience.
Bohjalian stressed how disheartening it was to see monuments in their present state after having seen their prior glory in old photos. He also discussed the negative associations that some villagers had with the ancient Armenian sites, describing “treasure hunters” who sought relics at the cost of destruction. Somewhat happily, however, visiting those monuments often led him to meet individuals who helped him piece together valuable information about the genocide and Armenian history in general.
After an engaging question and answer session, Der Mesrop Lakissian of St. Illuminator’s Apostolic Cathedral in New York City performed a traditional blessing of the book ceremony (kinetson). Members of the audience—some of whom came from hours away just to meet Bohjalian—were then able to meet him and have him sign a few copies of his books. Ani Tchaghlasian, the MC for the evening and a member of Hamazkayin of New Jersey Executive Board, was very pleased with the turnout of the event, saying, “Chris Bohjalian is a talented, inspiring, and passionate writer who has become the most eloquent speaker on the Armenian Cause. Hamazkayin of New Jersey is honored to have the opportunity to support Chris to promote his new book The Light in the Ruins.”