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Draining the Seaby Micheline Aharonian Marcom
"Despite her worthy intent, Marcom's ambition here overshoots her execution. Perhaps she needed more time to distill her material. It is not an easy matter to push against the boundaries of language to express unimaginable horror. More likely, her design is flawed. Yoking the Guatemalan genocide with the Armenian one — and with the extermination of Southern California's indigenes, the building of the Los Angeles aqueduct, the transformation of the Los Angeles River into a concrete 'river freeway' and the alienating effects of modern life — is a tall order." Jane Ciabattari, Los Angeles Times (read the entire Los Angeles Times review)
Synopses & Reviews
A striking literary exploration of the effects of political violence as it reverberates through the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Guatemalan civil conflict of the 1980s, and present-day Los Angeles — from award-winning novelist Micheline Aharonian Marcom.
Draining the Sea is the most ambitious and provocative book to date from acclaimed author Micheline Aharonian Marcom. The story unfurls inside the mind of a man who spends his nights driving the streets of Los Angeles, racked by memories and visions of the Guatemalan civil war, and, in particular, of a beautiful young Mayan woman who died violently in it. He was in love with her, but, it seems, may have played a role in her death. He also is very aware of the United States' complicity in the horrors of that conflict, further twisting his anguish. And in his mind, her fate resonates back to his own childhood as the grandson of survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
Micheline Aharonian Marcom, herself descended from Armenian Genocide survivors, has always been haunted by the long-term effects of atrocity. In Three Apples Fell from Heaven, she told the tale of the forcible deportation and massacre of Armenians with unsparing directness. In The Daydreaming Boy, she imagined a man living in Beirut who is forced to face the emotional aftermath of his brutal boyhood as an orphan of the genocide. Now, in this darkly lyrical novel, Marcom offers a powerful testament about the far-reaching impact of political violence and lost love.
"Marcom (Three Apples Fell from Heaven; The Daydreaming Boy) looks at the Guatemalan civil war through the eyes of a former American soldier complicit in the killing of civilians in this circuitous novel. As the unnamed narrator, a descendant of Armenian genocide survivors, drives through Los Angeles and goes through his daily routines, he's awash in memories, mostly about Marta, an Ixil prostitute whom the narrator both loved and possibly killed. In a florid stream of consciousness, the narrator continually revisits several themes, events and images: black flies, Marta's brother's murder, Marta's torture and death among them. Throughout, Marcom weaves references and imagery from religion, mythology and Guatemalan, Armenian and American history, and indicts the powers-that-be for turning a blind eye toward the slaughter of indigenous people. Though some may find that Marcom overly romanticizes Ixil life and is ham-fisted in her critique of American consumerism, the novel's evocative imagery and explicit prose can move as well as chill. In the end, though, the book is more demanding than enlightening." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In Micheline Marcom's ambitious novel "Draining the Sea," a nameless narrator collects the dead bodies of dogs, puts them carefully into the trunk of his car and takes them to his house in the Santa Monica Mountains. When he's not driving this stinking roadkill around Los Angeles, he watches game shows on television, ponders the sterility of American life and dreams of a woman in Guatemala. ... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Los Angeles seems to induce the same apocalyptic visions in writers with very different sensibilities. For Jack Kerouac, Nathanael West and Joan Didion, to name a few, the city is a burial ground for the American dream. For Marcom's narrator, Los Angeles is a nightmare where "the horizon has perished, and we are stranded here, at the pilgrim's apogee" — the place where Americans play out the last act of their lives, "eating ice cream," "dieting on fat bowls of cereals and swimming in ... chemical pools." "Draining the Sea" is the last volume of a trilogy in which Marcom set out to explore the atrocities of the Armenian genocide of 1915. But here, the author's interests have shifted to the Guatemalan civil war of the 1980s. The book's title comes from words attributed to the military commander responsible for the scorched-earth policy his army carried out against the people of Guatemala: "The guerrilla is the fish. The people are the sea. If you cannot catch the fish you have to drain the sea." What justified this madness, in which children's heads are bashed against river stones and young men are beaten until their brains fall out? "We are fighting a cold war," he says. "The communist scum will get us if we don't watch out." The novel is a richly symbolic dream. Wandering around Los Angeles, the narrator is overwhelmed by his love for Marta, an indigenous girl from a remote province of Guatemala. But Marta — a simple creature who can speak only the Ixil dialect, and who fled to the mountains to escape the massacre — may be a phantasm. A year after her flight, government soldiers murdered her in the basement of a school in Guatemala. Or did they? Was she tortured and killed? Did she ever exist? And finally, does the narrator bear a responsibility for her death, even if she is his creation? In this highly mannered, plotless novel, the leading characters share a tenuous connection to reality. Given the author's predilection for ambiguity, it's not easy to summarize the plot of "Draining the Sea" — or even to follow it. Her frequent use of invented words and run-on sentences perplexes the reader and disserves the writer. What are "denizens of livered historiographies"? Can you make sense of this? "The heart, an organ's meaty desire, can be like capital's descent into your cities and towns — because who built the cathedrals?" Outside of creative writing workshops, stream of consciousness has pretty much gone out of fashion, perhaps because, except where the consciousness belonged to a master like James Joyce, it is such a chore to "unstream." The inner workings of a character's mind do not necessarily communicate the character's essence. More important, stream-of-consciousness prose often lacks emotional texture, resulting in a flatness that bogs the reader down. "Draining the Sea" fails to reward the reader for the hard work of slogging through its text. Whatever meaning one can discover in Marcom's novel comes from its incessant repetitions, which create indelible images for the reader. Most of these sensational images are almost too much to bear: Marta with her hands cut off; Marta possibly alive when she's thrown into a pit and doused with chemicals; young soldiers carrying their dogs on their backs, forced to kill them with their bare hands and ordered to drink their blood. Seared in one's mind is the image of the complicity of the United States: "My president (Reagan) is eating dinner sugary desserts in Tegucigalpa with your general." Raised in Los Angeles, the child of an American father and an Armenian-Lebanese mother, Marcom observed the force of history as it bore down on her grandmother during the Armenian genocide. A talented, passionate young writer, she urges the reader to revolt at the inhumanity in our midst. Even though her style lacks maturity, "Draining the Sea" is a daring attempt to face down evil and an original contribution to a growing body of literature that bears witness to the atrocities of our time. The dog-corpse collector narrator who watches television from a green armchair in L.A. finally becomes a sympathetic Everyman. He starts out as a "good American boy; he likes parties, he likes the television, he likes ice cream." But in re-creating the martyrdom of Marta, he transcends his passivity to become a storyteller. Stories console for the memories that prompt them, making it possible to endure all that is precarious and horrific in reality. In the end, it's stories that defeat death, and if that's the case, then for Micheline Marcom, writing them is an act of love. Reviewed by Wendy Gimbel, who is the author of 'Havana Dreams' and at work on another book about Cuba, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"With the gorgeous prose that has characterized her previous works, Micheline Aharonian Marcom gives us a new work of obsession, tragedy, and the unpredictable trajectories of the heart. Crosscutting between the stories of a half-Armenian man in Los Angeles and a brutalized young woman in Guatemala, Marcom beautifully mines the undercurrents that suffuse their lives." Cristina Garc’a, author of Dreaming in Cuban and A Handbook to Luck
"Although her unsubtle condemnation of American actions in Latin America makes this work somewhat more political than her previous ones, Marcom's unique proficiency in describing souls infected by the viral contagion of violence is again on full display." Booklist
The extraordinary new novel from the winner of the: 2004 Lannan Literary Fellowship 2005 PEN USA Literary Award for Fiction 2006 Whiting Writers? Award
?A new work of obsession, tragedy, and the unpredictable trajectories of the heart.?(Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban)
A powerful testament about the far-reaching effects of political brutality and lost love, Draining the Sea sifts through the incongruities of history and memory, unfurling inside the mind of a man who spends his days driving the streets of Los Angeles, racked by visions of the Guatemalan Civil War and, in particular, of Marta, a beautiful young prostitute who died violently in it?a tragedy in which he himself may have played a role.
About the Author
Micheline Aharonian Marcom was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Los Angeles. She works as a counselor in the Upward Bound program, a federally funded college-preparatory program for low-income high school youth, and lives in northern California.
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