Bloodvine

Bloodvine

by Aris Janigian

 

Atina Hartunian: With the rise of home appliances, television, and the muscle car, the decade seems to be the turning point of progress. However the stereotypical picture is very white, leaving immigrant cultures and agricultural life by the way- side. Not even in the backdrop. This is where "Bloodvine", written by Aris Janigian, begins.

At the very edge of the decade, we are transported back in time to the heartland of California, where a culture tries to survive by maintaining a community away from the odars. Two brothers (actually they’re half-brothers) share acres of land bequeathed to them when their mother died. The two are small-time farmers in the big business of raisins. Andy has worked this land with his brother Abe for as long as he can remember.

The story revolves around what happens between these two brothers and the piece of dirt. Our narrator goes back into his father’s past to piece together the series of events that leads to the great chasm between these brothers and everyone who had a hand in creating it. What is fascinating about this story are the characters that surround Andy, short for Andranick. 

Andy is a first-generation Armenian- American. His character teeters between the world of the odars, the non-Armenian, and that of his people. Though he is invested in his community and church, compared to the rest of his family he is progressive in his thinking.

Whereas Abe can be described as your stereotypical kiughatsi (peasant): crude, ill-mannered, jealous, and highly superstitious where money is concerned. He has suffered great trauma in World War II. He is susceptible to his wife’s manipulations.

Zabel, Andy’s sister-in-law, is an unforgiving, harsh wench who plants and nurtures the dispute between Abe and Andy. Then, there is the mother-in-law, Angel, who is deviously superstitious and untrusting of anyone or thing and is always on guard for that wandering evil eye.

These are the forces that try to squeeze the very juice out of our hero, Andy. With this cluster of characters, Janigian conveys a spectrum of personalities, phobias, and mentalities of Armenians after the Genocide, World War I, and World War II, who are trying to survive in a new country that doesn’t particularly care for them. It’s hard to believe that at one point Fresno was not run by Armenians. Though it has become a cornerstone of the Armenian-American community, there was a time when Armenians were discriminated against there. Janigian merely touches on this point, but it’s important to note how deep Armenian roots in this country have grown: so much so that it warrants a separate branch in American history.

Janigian gives us a glimpse of Armenian minds that have been damaged because of the Genocide or skewed because of war. The author points to almost every quirk and weirdness that exists in the culture and makes them so unique. These quirks are placed within his characters with compassion drawing out the reasons or the root of these symptoms. One of the strengths of this book lies within his characters.

On another note, one can’t help but wonder if this story also means to be an allegorical tale as well, referring to the unceasing hostility between Armenians and Turks. Wasn’t there a time they called each other brothers? Is the author saying something, in this regard, with his words so cleverly hidden between the lips of his characters? “You think a people that went through such hell would stick together at any price. You’d think the last thing they’d do is start hacking at each other. But once they’ve got some dirt beneath them, that’s the first thing they do.”

Perhaps it’s the author’s intention to expose an unhealthy attachment to land. On the one hand, there’s great love we pour into the land we cultivate. On the other, it becomes a sickness when we’re unable to let it go. It turns brothers against each other. These issues hang like a gauzy canopy over the story, told through Janigian’s prose, raw and rich like the earth itself. It churns with great emotion and exposes all the beauty of our culture. The story and prose both bare the question, if blood is thicker than water, is it also resilient to land?

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