By Elizabeth Wroten
YA Review: Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath
On 19, May 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: It is 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is crumbling into violence.
Beyond Anatolia, in the Armenian Highlands, Shahen Donabedian dreams of going to New York. Sosi, his twin sister, never wants to leave her home, especially now that she is in love. At first, only Papa, who counts Turks and Kurds among his closest friends, stands in Shahen’s way. But when the Ottoman pashas set their plans to eliminate all Armenians in motion, neither twin has a choice.
After a horrifying attack leaves them orphaned, Shahen and Sosi flee into the mountains, carrying their little sister, Mariam. Shahen keeps their parents’ fate a secret from his sisters. But the children are not alone. An eagle named Ardziv watches over them as they run at night and hide each day, making their way across mountain ridges and rivers red with blood.
I couldn’t finish this one. It wasn’t because it wasn’t any good either. It was just too depressing. Plus the youngest girl that’s on the run is five and it was just a little too close to my own daughter’s age and I couldn’t help projecting.
The book is actually a novel in verse and the author says in her note in the back that this choice was intended to place a barrier between the reader and the horror of the situations. This is exactly what Andrea Pinkney Davis said about her book The Red Pencil. And I think it is very effective. Walrath also adds in an eagle as a narrator who witness some of the most horrific parts of the story of the genocide. This too puts a bit of a space between the reader and the horror. It also allows there to be a little more history and broader perspective that sees war coming before it arrives.
Like Water on Stone is written beautifully and certainly the beginning 100 pages that focus on life before the genocide began are beautiful, featuring scenes of everyday life in the rural village. I skipped ahead and read a few of the poems much later in the book and it seems there is hope at the end of the book. I just couldn’t make it through the terrible stuff to get there. I highly recommend giving it a try and not letting my inabilty to finish it deter you if you are interested in the Armenian genocide or are looking for an excellent novel in verse.
This is clearly for high school as there is talk of rape and murder. But it would also be a good history book (despite being fictionalized). This is yet another part of history, a shameful one, that is skipped over in history classes. We often focus so much on the genocide of WWII and of the Jews that history classes lose sight of the other genocides during this century. Even prominent figures today lose sight of other genocides. The pope called the Armenian genocide the first of the 20th century and it wasn’t. The massacre of the Herrero people by the Germans a good 10 years earlier was the first. If you liked this book or want something a little less hard to take, I suggest Ruta Sepetys Between Shades of Gray. It’s a totally different time period, but it has the same feel to it.