by Elgin Groseclose
[Carrick & Evans, $2.50]
THE fact that Ararat deals with the Armenian massacres in the time of Abdul Hamid and with the escape of the people of a village naturally reminds one of the Forty Days of Musa Dagh. But the resemblance is very slight and almost disappears as the tale proceeds.Ararat is not the story of the woes and heroisms of a people, but of the working of spiritual forces in individual men and women who find a salvation for themselves and others amid a world of destruction and decay. Mount Ararat suggests the story of Noah, who preserved the race through his faith, and this in turn suggests that the human race can be saved again only by faith.
There are two heroes, Amos Lyle, an American missionary, and Paul Stepanovitch Markov, a Russian soldier. The former might be said to represent faith and the latter the works without which faith is dead. Their histories are told separately to the time of their meeting and then jointly as they work together in building up a great refuge for orphaned children. There are a multitude of other characters, however, Armenian, Turkish, Russian, who give the novel great richness of human interest.
The story too is extremely interesting, at times exciting, and exercises upon the mind a suspense so strong that I found myself unable to lay it aside. The main thread concerns the work of Lyle, a Texas cow hand who has felt the call to go to the Near East as a missionary and who has spent years among the Armenians of the little village of Dilijan in Turkey. When the massacres begin he manages to save nearly half of the population, migrates with them to Bartzan in Russia, and for a decade, mainly by the power of his faith, helps them to prosper. In the end, however, the community disintegrates. He moves to the city of Kars, where he founds an orphanage for the waifs of the Revolution, supporting it precariously by collecting contributions. It is here that Markov, a Russian officer who is a victim of the Revolution, finds him, becomes interested in his work, and, through his executive ability, develops the orphanage into a great institution. Outgrowing their quarters at Kars, they move to Bartzan, but here are threatened by the Turks and compelled to flee. The final scenes depict the march of the hundreds of children across the gorges of the Araxes and up the slopes of Ararat to safety.
This outline gives no impression of the scope and solidity of the book, for it does not suggest the moral, religious, and philosophical conceptions which it illustrates. While these are not new, they give considerable dignity to the novel, and in retrospect are seen to present a parable. The theme is the insufficiency of reason and the necessity of faith for the salvation of civilization.
Mount Ararat is a noble symbol of this idea. It lies, so to speak, in the middle of the world, for the realms of the Sultan, the Czar, and the Shah meet at its base; it is in the region fabled to be that of the Garden of Eden; and on its top the Ark rested after the Flood, bearing the survivors of the human race. The mountain towers above the joys and sorrow of men. influencing the various characters by its beauty and calm. In the end it offers a refuge to the Armenian children. It is easy to read under this symbolism a meaning that applies not only to one race but to the people of the world.
Amos Lyle is a fine creation, compounded of simplicity, humor, eccentricity, and nobility; and Markov, though he does not touch our sympathies quite so warmly, is really no less interesting. The two form a telling contrast between American energy and optimism and Russian rationality and fatalism all the more striking because in the two men the rôles of the two nations seem reversed, Lyle being the idealist and Markov the man of action. They are both, nevertheless, convincing. And there are perhaps twenty other characters who, though less important, please the imagination quite as much. It is a moving story, rich in incident and fascinating in its pictures of little-known places and people, written by one who obviously knows what he is writing about.