by M. Wayne Cunningham
Saskatchewan-born Linda Ghan's newest novel, Sosi, is a challenging story of a young girl growing up in a maelstrom of conflicting religious, political, and historical influences and personal circumstances that transform her from a lively, questioning child in Turkey to an early-twenties gin-loving, promiscuous, jazz-club junkie in Montreal, who has to be saved from herself.
Sosi (aka Zeyneb, Arta, and "the Goat Girl") begins her story of survival when as the six-year-old daughter of an Armenian mother and a Turkish father she is attacked in her village for being an "infidel" by her peers. Smuggled away by her father to the safety of family friends in in another city, she grudgingly adapts to their way of life. Some time later she learns of the death of her parents in an Armenian-Turkish conflict. She struggles to understand the tensions created by her mixed parentage, the reasons for the treatment she receives in the schoolyard, where she marks her turf with stones instead of words, and her home environment with loving uncle Samuel and critical but caring aunta Gracia. What, she wonders, is her place in a world of so much warring between factions of Jews, Turks, Armenians, Christians and Muslims. "I wished God and Jesus and Allah weren't men," she says. At fourteen she ponders her different names and her identity, and brazenly questions her foster parents' wisdom in trying to arrange a marriage for her with her "squingy skinny little-girl breasts" to "the Behar boy," twelve years her senior and looking like "a brown mushroom plumping down the road."
Saved from the marriage by uncle Samuel's impromptu decision to move the family to Jerusalem, Sosi begins the next phase of her life. Still only in her mid-teens and at loose ends, she meets up with a Montreal-born female Jewish cabbie named Varti, whose husband has recently been killed. At Varti's urging, Sosi allows herself to be seduced by a twenty-year-old love-struck Armenian photographer, Ara; he's an angst-ridden, angry young man determined to expose the horrors of the Armenian genocide by the Turks. Although unmarried, Sosi bears Ara's child much to aunt Gracia's dismay. Ara eventually slips into Turkey to photograph whatever evidence of the atrocities he can find. But when his smuggled films cease coming home, Sosi fears the worst and must fend for herself and her daughter, Sammi, while listening to aunt Gracia's complaints and coping without Varti, who has relocated to her parents' home in Montreal. Sosi becomes even more desolate when Uncle Samuel dies. So with ArałAllah, Jesus, and God only knows wherełand her beloved uncle in his grave, her childhood best friend married to "the brown mushroom," and because "there hasn't been peace in the Middle East since time began," she uproots Sammi and a protesting aunt Gracia for an uncertain life in Montreal with Varti and her family.
In Montreal, her aunt adapts well and her daughter settles in, especially since the Armenian community welcomes them, and a one-armed Armenian mailman becomes a family friend and eventually Varti's husband. Sosi, however, continues to war with her demons, but now the nightclubs, alcohol, and the jazz musicians Varti has introduced her to become the mainstay of her life. She works for six months in a factory and sets herself up as a photographer of weddings and christenings, but even when Ara has miraculously been found by "the brown mushroom" and smuggled into Montreal, the pull of booze and sex with a nameless, faceless drummer is something she can't resist. But unlike the historical demons of genocide these are ones she can banish with Ara's help and Varti's admonition, "This is it kid . . . You're going to have to straighten up and fly right."
Some parts of the novel, such as Ara's off-scene rescue by "the brown mushroom," fails to be completely credible, and some of the characters aren't successfully realized. As well, despite the insertion of facts and figures about the Armenian genocide, the conflict never comes to have a strong emotional impact on the reader. Occasionally, the names of charactersłAra, Arta, Amiłare confusing and family relationships remain obscure. Uncle Samuel, however, is the quintessential lovable Uncle, Aunt Gracia is uniquely Aunt Gracia, Sosi is a well- drawn character, and her repartees with her Aunt are often witty. As noted earlier, this is a challenging book that calls for an attentive, mature reader. ņ