x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Book review: An Armenian Sketchbook full of endearing vignettes

In An Armenian Sketchbook, the Soviet writer and journalist Vasily Grossman takes readers on a journey around Armenia through a series of vignettes.

An Armenian Sketchbook
Vasily Grossman
Translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler
MacLehose Press

The year 1961 finds the Soviet writer and journalist Vasily Grossman on a train to Yerevan, Armenia. Mentally and spiritually exhausted from the KGB's seizure of his novel Life and Fate, Grossman spends two months editing a Russian translation of a long Armenian novel, glad of the opportunity to travel to the country.

However, as seen through the series of vignettes which form the whole of An Armenian Sketchbook, Grossman is a writer who takes detours parallel to the work of translating a scene from one culture to another. His first day in Yerevan is spent wandering about in dazed panic through the many colourful courtyards that form the maze of the city's inner sanctum. As he gradually adjusts to the sights and sensations of a simpler life, its effects linger on in the warmth with which he later recalls them.

There is many a poignant tale to be told in Grossman's brief sojourn. Like the characters that fill its pages, An Armenian Sketchbook is enigmatic and endearing.

* Noori Passela