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Pain: Journeys Around My Parents

by Keith Garebian

Keith Garebian’s background is rich with potential autobiographical material. Born to an Armenian father and a mother of mixed Indian and English ancestry, he spent his early years in the polyglot expatriate community in Bombay. With such a personal history, he might have regaled the reader with the eccentric characters and bizarre social situations of his youth. Instead, Garebian’s short memoir focuses mainly on his parents.

The irrational, opinionated father – a witness, at the age of 16, to the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks – dominates the memoir. The son’s painful double-bind becomes all too clear. Rationally, he understands that his father’s impossible behaviour springs from the brutalizing experiences of his past. Yet he cannot overcome his anger at the domineering patriarch whose drunkenness embarrasses his family on social occasions.

Garebian assembles his memoir through a mosaic of literary quotations and historical references, as well as his own diary entries and poems. Such postmodern devices, often employed gratuitously by contemporary writers, are entirely fitting to Garebian’s painful ambivalence and emotional unease with his main character. The style ranges from the lyrical to the expository to the highly colloquial, making for a lively, engaging read. What is disconcerting, however, is the author’s tendency to intrude into his account with editorial comments that explain and defend his style.

Nevertheless, this book is an important contribution to the annals of genocide, holocaust survival, and immigration. Garebian’s work provides moving testimony to the lives of those he describes as “psychically possessed by the phobia of dispossession,” and demonstrates how the effects of those psychic wounds continue to affect later generations.