Balian’s Novel Holds a Mirror to Immigrants

Balian’s Novel Holds a Mirror to Immigrants
Posted by Contributor

December 14, 2012

By Ara Caprielian

Author Hagop Balian is highly respected in literary circles as an
intellectual, journalist, and editor. Recently he was awarded a
much-coveted medal by the government of Armenia for being an ardent
champion and tireless promoter of the Armenian language, particularly
Western Armenian and classical orthography.

Balian, the current editor of the prestigious literary periodical
`Pakine,’ is a prolific writer of insightful, thought-provoking, and
sometimes controversial articles covering such diverse subjects as the
pursuit of the Armenian Question (Hai Tahd), the current state of
national awareness (or lack thereof) throughout the world-wide
diaspora, the challenge of survival faced by Armenian culture and
language, as well as issues involving different facets of life in
Armenian communities. Balian’s thoughtful writings regularly appear in
various Armenian periodicals all over the globe.

The novel under review, `America, America…Yeraz yev Khordagman
Lkoumner,’ is a logical outcome of the keen observations the author
has made over the years regarding the immigration of Armenians from
Armenia and the Middle East to the United States, resulting, for many,
in the loss of their ethnic/national identity and culture, inevitably
leading to assimilation. To be sure, such developments leave indelible
imprints both on the lives of the individuals and the nation as a

The story begins with the death of an apparently lonely gentleman in
Glendale, Calif., followed by a brief description of his funeral, the
execution of his will, and the subsequent publication of his diary,
which spans many decades of his eventful life. The narrative, based on
his diary, commences with protagonist Levon Arisian’s boyhood and life
in a typical Middle Eastern city. His dreams and ambitions unfold, and
the reader learns about a promise made to his first love.

We follow Arisian to Alabama, where he achieves his paramount goal of
getting a higher education and the success he so eagerly sought. The
following chapters describe his adventurous life, including the many
voluntary adjustments he makes to become a quintessential American,
which inexorably lead to his alienation from all things Armenian. This
bright, self-disciplined student soon becomes a highly successful
engineer, ultimately reaching the highest level of the corporate
ladder. In this promised land of limitless opportunity, his enviable
success and reputation open many doors, which countless aspiring
immigrants could only dream about.

In time, he marries an American woman from a well-established family,
raises three children, and becomes a bonafide member of America’s
consumer society. The first incident that brings home the point that
he is `outsider,’ after all, occurs when he vainly tries to name his
firstborn son after his father over the adamant objections of his

After an absence of many years, and out of a sense of filial
obligation, he returns to his birthplace with his family to visit his
mother and siblings. Another disappointment occurs when he sees his
American family’s inability to connect with his warm and gracious

Two major events awaken within him a dormant feeling of identification
with his people: the spate of assassinations of Turkish diplomats in
the 1970’s as a desperate measure to resurrect the yet-unresolved
Armenian Question (Hai Tahd) and the devastating 1988 earthquake in

Ultimately, his divorce, alienation from his children, and the loss of
women in his life by virtue of tragic circumstances shatter his dreams
and the very purpose of his life. But I should tell no more before I
risk spoiling the pleasure of reading this novel.

Like many good novels, underneath a seemingly simple story lie
philosophical problems, constituting food for thought, soul searching,
and introspection by the readers. Indeed, many Armenians who
immigrated to the United States from various countries – seeking refuge,
safety, freedom, or the opportunity to realize the American dream – have
lost many values inherited from their background. Others, on the other
hand, have simply refused to succumb to the temptation of making
achieving fame and fortune, and have succeeded in making significant
contributions to their Armenian communities.

The reader can determine in which category Levon Arisian belongs.

One of the many positive attributes of the novel is the author’s
perceptive observation of life in the United States, despite his all
too brief, occasional visits to this country. The other is his
meticulous use of Western Armenian, the future of which as a viable,
living language is an abiding concern, considering the present trends.

It is regrettable that because of the language, the novel is not
easily accessible to a larger reading public. Presumably, some
Armenians will be able to identify with the very same problems,
dilemmas, successes, and failures faced by the protagonist. In any
event, Hagop Balian’s novel is a welcome contribution to the rich
treasury of Armenian literature.