WORCESTER, WHITINSVILLE, Mass.—Over 75 friends, family members and fans from both the Armenian and Worcester communities gathered to celebrate the release of Who She Left Behind, the debut novel by Victoria Atamian Waterman. The event, held at the Worcester Historical Museum, was hosted by Valerie and Steve Loring and Judy King, renowned philanthropists and cherished friends of the author.
Kicking off the event, King introduced her sister, Val Loring, a dedicated supporter of causes that empower women and girls in Worcester. It was through their shared commitment to these causes that they crossed paths and formed a close friendship with Victoria and her husband, Jim Waterman. Loring delivered a stirring and emotional introduction, emphasizing how the motto of a magnet she had left behind in Massachusetts when she moved to Maine aptly describes how Waterman has embraced opportunities and pursued her passions: “Carpe Diem – Seize the Day!”
The program took on a fireside chat format, skillfully guided by the author’s longtime friend and colleague Alicia O’Connell Rogers, who serves as the youth librarian at Worcester Public Library. Their engaging conversation began with Rogers’ inquiry about the book’s themes and its portrayal of family. Waterman explained that the prologue and epilogue of the book are set in present-day North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island, while the pages in between vividly recount the journey of her family’s survival during the 1915 Armenian Genocide and their subsequent relocation to Massachusetts and Rhode Island to build new lives.
Waterman then shared that her favorite part of the book is found in the very first chapter. She recounted how, as children, she and her cousins used to concoct plans to follow their grandmothers’ instructions to uncover the treasures they had buried under a tree back in Gurin, Armenia, believing they would one day return. Waterman emphasized that burying gold and small valuables was a common practice among many Armenian families facing deportation in 1915, but her great-aunts’ poignant treasures were the dolls they had hidden under the tree. A collective “aww” was heard through the room, and the author continued, explaining her deep-rooted intention to memorialize this touching memory. Throughout the book, she weaves a recurring theme of dolls and doll-making, crafting a meaningful thread that runs through the heart of the story.
The conversation then explored the significant connection between the Worcester Historical Museum and the vital role Worcester played in Armenian history. Waterman elaborated on how Worcester was home to the first Armenian church in the western hemisphere. She also highlighted the invaluable documents held in the museum’s library, which are often challenging to locate elsewhere.
Waterman spoke about her commitment to respectfully representing the historical context that supports the fictional characters in her novel. To achieve this, she conducted thorough research, digging into a wide range of scholarly works and resources. These included memoirs, history books, historical fiction, firsthand accounts, oral histories and more. She shared an example of her diligent efforts, noting her desire to depict a fictional friendship between her Aunt Vicky and Alice Stone Blackwell, a renowned feminist and humanitarian who brilliantly translated Armenian Poems. This translation was of immense significance and had strong ties to Worcester, as it played a pivotal role in raising funds for Armenian causes. Notably, Blackwell was the daughter of Lucy Stone, a leading reformer and advocate of women’s rights, who spoke at the first National Woman’s Rights Convention held in Worcester in 1850. Stone’s portrait adorns the walls of historic Mechanics Hall in the city. Unfortunately, Aunt Vicky and Blackwell were not in Worcester in the same decade, and the fictional friendship ended there.
Waterman then discussed how she infused her personal experiences from her career in girls’ and women’s leadership into her writing. In the initial stages of her writing journey, she grappled with uncertainty regarding the storyline and the message she wished to convey. However, as she searched for stories and narratives that demanded recognition, she experienced breakthrough moments that profoundly resonated with her. She discovered a disheartening truth—that over 70-percent of historical accounts are authored by men and predominantly focus on male perspectives, leaving a significant gap in our understanding of history. She said it became crystal clear that she had a commitment to fulfill—to tell a story that would pay tribute to the voices that had been overlooked for far too long. It was of paramount importance that she portrayed the stories of women as strong and resilient individuals rather than as powerless victims.
This sense of purpose became the driving force behind her writing and led her to become a student of Karen Jeppe and the Rescue Home of Aleppo, whose extraordinary heroism she incorporated into her narrative. Waterman holds Jeppe in the highest regard, describing her as a mission-driven leader who employed her business acumen and humanitarian spirit to rescue Armenian women trapped in horrifying circumstances and providing skills to empower self-sufficiency.
The conversation would have been incomplete without connecting the historical events in the story to current headlines. Waterman’s tone turned somber as she discussed the recent developments, particularly the fall of Artsakh, which unfolded in a matter of weeks while the world watched in silence. Approximately 120,000 people were forcibly displaced by Azerbaijan following a 10-month blockade that prevented food and medical supplies from reaching severely malnourished individuals in desperate need. She expressed her frustration that this story has gone largely unnoticed in the news. She urged the audience to remain aware of the ongoing humanitarian crisis affecting Armenians worldwide and not to simply scroll past these mentions in their newsfeeds. Victoria emphasized the reality of generational trauma and the lasting impact it has on people, stating, “Your Armenian friends are not okay.”
The author also pointed out the recent events in the past week where terrorist groups, such as Hamas, invaded Israel, resulting in the tragic loss of thousands of lives, including barbaric acts against the Jewish and Palestinian communities.
As the session neared its conclusion, a lively Q&A unfolded, during which more of Waterman’s remarkable research findings were revealed. Before wrapping up, Rogers posed a crucial question: How could the audience contribute to the success of the novel? According to Victoria’s publisher, Historium Press, the initial 30 days following the book’s release are pivotal to its success. To support her goal, she encouraged the audience to help her garner 50 favorable reviews on platforms like Amazon and Goodreads by November 16. These reviews need not be extensive; even a simple 5-star rating and some positive comments would be greatly appreciated if readers found the book deserving.
Waterman also requested that people spread the word among their friends and networks and consider inviting her to participate in group meetings, book clubs, speaking engagements and other events. She emphasized that the book has much more to offer beyond its exploration of Armenian culture, and she welcomed opportunities to share these diverse facets with a wider audience.
What lies ahead in the author’s literary journey? She’s already hard at work on her second book, which explores her grandfather’s incredible story of survival and chronicles his upbringing in a Greek orphanage and the miraculous reunion with his father and cousin in Providence, Rhode Island.
On a lighter note, for those with connections in the film industry, Waterman wants to put in a good word that she envisions she and her husband being portrayed by Amal and George Clooney, though her husband humorously leans more toward the idea of Danny DeVito.
The guests enjoyed an elegant evening with celebratory spirits and Middle Eastern-inspired hors d’oeuvres artfully provided by Struck Catering. Eager readers lined up to purchase books from TidePool Bookshop and have them personally signed by the author. Special thanks for capturing the moments go to Kenneth Martin for the photographs and Craig Martin for the videography.
The congregation of the Armenian Church of Whitinsville, St. Asdvadzadzin Armenian Apostolic Church, gathered on the first Sunday of the book’s release to participate in the book blessing service. Rev. Fr. Mikael Der Kosrofian and Deacons Raffi Samkiranian and Jeff Kalousdian officiated the service with the tradition of pouring Armenian red wine over the pages of the book while praying: “Lord God, Omnipotent and Almighty, giver of all goodness and prosperity, you are a forgiving Lord, and we turn to you for strength. Guide Victoria to continue to be an example for women of all ages. Bless this book O Lord, Who She Left Behind, and inspire those who will read the untold stories of the brave and resilient women who became the pillars of reconstructed communities after the Armenian Genocide. Lord Jesus, from the abundance of your mercy, enrich Victoria and safeguard her. Inspire her to author new works. Strengthened by your blessings, may we always be thankful to you and bless you with unending joy, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Nov. 12, RI – Providence, by AHARI Armenian Historical Assoc. of RI
Nov. 13, RI – North Smithfield Public Library
Nov. 15, MA – TidePool Bookshop, Worcester
Nov. 18, MA – Tatnuck Bookseller, Westborough
Dec. 9, RI – Warwick Public Library
Dec. 12, MA – Watertown Public Library and Armenian Museum of America
Local readers can pick up a copy of Who She Left Behind at TidePool Bookshop, 327 Chandler Street, Worcester, MA, and Tatnuck Booksellers, Westborough Shopping Center, 18 Lyman Street, Westborough, MA. Or, buy a book online and contact Waterman on her website with personalization and mailing address. The author will mail you a personalized bookplate to insert in the front cover. Join the subscriber list and enter to win a free signed book.