We're excited to launch the next installment of our first volume. Featuring short stories, poetry, and artwork that celebrate the unordinary. Follow the link below to download a copy!
In honor of Tracy becoming our new Poet Laureate this autumn, we've decided to share one of our favorite poems of hers.
By Elizabeth Jaeger
In 1915, Genocide killed 1.5 million people. Vaguely, I remembered reading somewhere that during World War I Turkey killed 1.5 million Armenian citizens. But I didn’t know anything about the deportations and deaths. It was one of those major world events that were left out of my history textbooks.
Since I very much enjoy reading historical fiction novels - a passion I share with my cousin - a few weeks ago she recommended The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. It is a novel that explores the suffering, particularly of Armenian women and children, during the genocide. Knowing almost nothing about that catastrophic event, I headed straight to the library, eager to read a good story and perhaps learn something in the process.
The novel takes place in Aleppo, Syria and it opens with Elizabeth Endicott’s arrival in the desert. She and her father are Americans, representatives of the Friends of Armenia Society, on a mission to bring relief to those who suffer. Neither one, but particularly Elizabeth, is prepared for what they will encounter. Elizabeth, in theory, understands what she has volunteered for. Then, shortly after she arrives, she witnesses the extent of the horror and she realizes, that her expectations were too high.
Stumbling down the street in a jagged line are hundreds of women and children that barely look human. Naked and shoeless, they have march through the desert under the watchful, and often murderous, eyes of the Turks. Their sun scorched skin is black and covered with festering wounds. Matted hair clings to their scalps. Watching them, Elizabeth is reminded of the America slave markets dating back to the earlier years of the previous century. Sadly, they are lucky ones. Thousands have already perished since the deportations began. The degree of suffering instantly curtails Elizabeth optimism.
During World War I, Turkey and Germany committed themselves to an alliance. In the novel, Bohjalian indicates that the Germans witnessing the atrocities were appalled by what they saw. However, fear of shattering a much needed alliance rendered them silent. One afternoon, while Elizabeth, acting as a nurse, tends to the dying woman and children, she observes two German men executing what she initially believes is a heinous act. Eric, a German lieutenant, is positioning one of the refugees in what Elizabeth assumes is a degrading position, while his friend Helmut takes her picture. Alarmed, she means to confront them, but the American consul intervenes. Unlike her, he immediately comprehends their intent. They are not taking pictures for pleasure, but for documentation, a form of protest against the crimes that the Turkish government is committing. These pictures, we later learn, drive the narrative. Smuggled out of the country and eventually developed, they become a testament to the truth, so that the pain and suffering will not be forgotten or erased.
But acts of heroism don’t always end happily. When two Turkish gendarmes discover Eric and Helmut photographing an emaciated corpse, they destroy the camera. The Germans pay severely for their defiance. When their superiors discover what they have done, they send them to the front lines. On the train en route to the Dardanelles, Helmut thinks back to the stories he has heard, stories that boast of pressing eighty-eight Armenians into subway cars that were built to carry thirty-six people comfortably. Helmut’s shock and dismay over how many people did not survive the journey is evident. The crushing weight of the bodies suffocated many of the victims who were then tossed, like garbage, out of the car. The irony is not lost reader. In a quarter of century, during a more well-known genocide, it will be the Germans who rely on box cars to transport Jews, Gypsies and Homosexuals.
As a comprehension exercise with my six year old son, I will sometime pause him while he is reading a story to ask: “If you were [enter character’s name] what would you do?” While reading The Sandcastle Girls, the question arose in my mind. What, I wondered, would I have done in Helmut’s or Eric’s position? Would I have had the courage to defy my superiors? Would I have utilized my skills to ensure that the genocide could not be erased from memory or ignored? I’d like to think that I would. But I know that unless I find myself in a similar situation the question is moot. Books can only make me question my resolve. Only real-life can challenge it.
One night, as I neared the end of The Sandcastle Girls, I read my son the picture book The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, by Carmen Agra Deedy. In doing so, I traveled through time, moving from one genocide to another. This legend is one of my favorites, so I revisit it often. In this version of the story, the Danish people refuse to draw stark distinctions between each other. Gentiles and Jews all consider themselves to be Danes first and foremost. When the Nazis occupy Denmark and issue an edit that all Jewish people must wear a yellow star, King Christian X meditates on how he can protect his subjects. Looking up at the sky one night, he realizes that the best way to hide a star is to place it among others. And so the next morning, he rides through Copenhagen - a Star of David prominently displayed on his jacket.
There is no historical proof that any of it ever happened. However, it is well documented that of all the Nazi occupied countries in Europe, only Denmark saved the majority of its Jewish population.
As I closed the book, my son looked at me thoughtfully and asked, “Would you have worn the star?”
Without answering, I turn the question back to him, wondering what he might be thinking. “What would you do?”
His answer shouldn’t have surprised me, “I’d do, whatever you do.”
We are delighted to announce the launch of the first Volume of the Sourland Mountain Review! Be sure to download your copy from our website and check back frequently for additional monthly volumes and more submissions!
Welcome to Notes From the Attic, the weekly blog for the Sourland Mountain Review. Here you will find a veritable mixture of literary goodness ranging from information about our publication to events to sources we draw inspiration from.
Our first blog post features the poem The Pied Beauty written by leading Victorian Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. The Pied Beauty was written in 1877 but was not published until it was included in the collection Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1918 and featured Hopkins’ own sprung rhythm which was designed to emulate the cadence of natural speech. Hopkins’ use of imagery in his poetry cemented his legacy as an innovative writer posthumously and the Pied Beauty is a stirring example.
Why do we love it? We Sourlanders are drawn to the magic found in everyday life, to the beauty found in startling and surprising juxtapositions. The unknown, the undiscovered, the unordinary. Or as Hopkins puts it, “All things counter, original, spare, strange.” Enjoy.
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
As we approach the end of this summer we begin to piece together to first Volume of the Sourland Mountain Review. We have received fantastic submissions from all over the world and have been so inspired by the work sent in. Check back soon for the publication date of our first Volume. In the meantime, be sure to stop by our Home page and enter your email address to receive a digital copy for free!