A “powerful and beautifully told” novel about one family’s journey out of the Armenian Genocide and its rebirth in California has been written by Daniel Melnick, Professor Emeritus of English at Cleveland State University.
Titled The Ash Tree, the novel is published by West of West Books, a central California-based imprint founded by writer Mark Arax. “Daniel has written a profound book,” Arax said. “It is informed not only by his Jewish family’s own persecution and exile to America but also by the fact that his wife, Jeanette, is an Armenian who grew up in Fresno.”
“With his marriage to Jeanette, Daniel suddenly found himself immersed in a clan of Armenian farmers, writers, and poets, socialists and capitalists, and football and baseball jocks. How to make sense of them and their traumatic history and the thread of tragedy that continued for them in America? Out of those questions came this novel, and it is powerful and beautifully told,” said Arax.
The Ash Tree is a timeless story of love, regret, and love again between Armen Ararat, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, and a young Armenian American named Artemis. Armen aspires to be a poet and after hiding in an attic in Istanbul to escape the death marches, he travels to the United States and settles in the sunbaked San Joaquin Valley.
Armen attends UC Berkeley but is soon drawn back to Fresno by the call of the family farm. There, he meets and marries Artemis, who has made her own journey from Connecticut to California. Because of the demands of family life, Armen’s pen goes silent and he becomes a raisin grower, only to lose his farm during the Great Depression. He then returns to the Bay Area with Artemis and their two young sons and baby daughter and finds success as a grocer.
As the novel pivots from Turkey to Berkeley to Fresno to San Francisco and then back again to Fresno, the footloose Armen and his family grow into vivid, quintessentially American characters.
Artemis and her daughter, Juliet, occupy the center of this world otherwise dominated by men. The dynamic, driven mother achieves a force and authority that challenge the limitations of her time and place. The daughter strives to develop into a forceful young woman in her own right, perceptive, artistic, and more at ease within herself than her mother.
Tigran is the older son—cautious, intense, solid—and Garo is the mercurial and risk-taking younger brother, forcing Tigran to try to protect him more than once against his will. Garo is passionate and charismatic. Large in spirit, he fearlessly embraces life, and he struggles against, yet is baffled by, the recoil of cruelty and evil he encounters.
The family discovers that America is not the mythologized land of opportunity but is beset by the evils of poverty, war, racism, censorship, drugs, and corruption. The Ararats’ turbulent story reveals universal truths about the struggles of countless families, immigrant and native alike.
All five members of the Ararat family find their voices here and share telling this epic story. As the family rebounds from the genocide and its generational trauma, they find themselves in the fertile yet hostile landscape of Central California, only for tragedy to find the Ararats again.
The novel’s cover painting with its frayed and white-washed frame is by the author’s wife, Jeanette Arax Melnick, and the novel is based partly on the lives of the Arax family. Combining history and fictionalized memoir, The Ash Tree is an important, beautifully written novel of survival, new life, and heartbreak.
Daniel Melnick’s previous books include Hungry Generations, a novel about the community of émigré musicians who lived in Los Angeles in the 1940’s. A California native, he has taught at UC Berkeley, where he earned his Ph.D., and at Cleveland State University, where he retired as an Emeritus Professor of English; he is now teaching classes at Case Western Reserve University.
The Ash Tree is available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com for $25 (ISBN: 9780981854762). For more information, visit www.theashtree.net.