The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

THE MAN of the MONTH
FRANZ WERFEL
[Viking, $3.00]
HIGH up on the slopes of Musa Dagh, the Mountain of Moses, which towers on the shore of the Mediterranean in Syria a few miles from Antioch and Aleppo, some five thousand Armenian villagers, men, women, and children, for forty days successfully withstood the assaults of trained Turkish troops, in spite of disloyalty, disaster, and famine, until they were rescued by French and British warships. Their leader was Gabriel Bagradian, a wealthy and Gallicized Armenian, who happened to return, after twenty-three years of absence in Paris, to his ancestral estates, only to find himself involved in the fate of his people; for the Turkish Government, in an attempt to exterminate the race, had dispossessed the Armenians and compelled them to migrate, at one day’s notice, into the deserts of Mesopotamia, where they died literally by thousands. With the help of a heroic priest, Ter Hagaisun, Bagradian herded the population of seven villages up on to the mountain, planned and directed fortification, developed his own tactics and strategy, and preserved his people not only from their enemies but from their own fatalism.
This in inadequate outline is the story of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a book so full of suspense and excitement, so majestic in its presentation of the tragedy of a whole people, so intense in its drama of individuals, that the attempt to give any fair impression of its richness leaves one with a feeling of helplessness. It is quite true that, as the author says, ‘on the slopes of Musa Dagh were the germs of everything which makes up the general life of humanity.’ From Bagradian himself and his French wife Juliette and their son Stephan, each in his own way fated, down through the levels of society to the half-witted waif Sato, the prison-blighted Kilikian, and the horrible spey-wives, the ‘dwellers in the graveyard,’ —, Nunik, Manushak, and Wartuk, every passion and aspiration, every degree of courage, hope, and despair, is depicted. And beyond the little special universe of the mountain lies Turkey, with its cynical rulers and kindly though misguided people; while in dolorous procession, radiating out from the mountain, move those heart-rending migrations of a whole people, torn from its roots, and sent on and on to die in hopeless exile.
Not the least admirable quality of the book is its mastery of its materials — the way in which its drama rises in successive cumulations and culminations; the skill with which the mountain is kept always at the centre of interest, however far the plot may loop and wind; the manner in which each individual comedy or tragedy is related to the central state of peril and siege; and the completeness with which every one of the sixty-odd characters is felt and seen. For enthralling episodes there is space only to refer to the ghastly evacuation of Zeitun, the heroic efforts of Johannes Lepsius to help the Armenians, the capture of the howitzers, the journey of Haik and Stephan, the fight in the ilex grove, and the firing of the forests.
For this book can be read as an adventure story or as a historical romance or as a study in the psychology of danger or as a tract against man’s inhumanity to man. However one reads it, one cannot fail to find it remarkable.
R. M. GAY