Virginia Haroutunian Orphan in the Sands

ISBN 13: 9780966438109

Orphan in the Sands

4.12 avg rating
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9780966438109: Orphan in the Sands

An otolaryngologist gives Victoria the good news that her throat cancer is in remission. He takes the daughter, Virginia, aside and suggests that Virginia ask her mother what her greatest wish would be. Where she would like to travel. What would she like to do. The sad fact was that the cancer could reappear. The mother, Victoria’s unusual wish is to take a trip to Ellis Island. Virginia feels negative about her choice but submissively does not object. Immediately, the daughter arranges the trip.

Upon arrival at Ellis Island, sitting on a wooden bench in the Great Hall, the mother takes the daughter’s hand and tells her for the first time of how she survived the 1915 vicious Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. She was seven years old. In that year of 1915 as the Armenian people were marched across the Turkish sands, Victoria’s mother collapsed and died and Victoria lost hold of her mother’s hand.

Virginia listens in shock as her mother describes how she was forced to leave her mother behind and try to continue to march without food or water across the desert. She was seven years old.

After the mother tells the story, Virginia learns that her mother had suffered severe emotional injuries and that the effects of these injuries had been unintentionally passed down to Virginia. Through learning about her mother’s past mother and daughter were able to restructure the negative relationship between them and create a much more sympathetic and loving connection.

This story has universal appeal. It is relevant to all people young and old who have experienced emotional deprivation. It raises the consciousness of the effects of post traumatic syndrome and how that impacts the relationship of future generations. It arouses the sympathy to the Armenian experience and also serves as a prototype for how war can effect future generations.

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About the Author:

Virginia Haroutunian was born in Pontiac, MI, a suburb of Detroit. A graduate of the University of Michigan Music School, she taught Choral Education in public schools for twenty-nine years. Following early retirement she pursued a Master's Degree in Teaching Reading and Writing at Oakland University in Rochester, MI. Author's Comments: Even though I was born on the safe shores of the United States of America and graduated from the University of Michigan Music School in 1958, my demons were from another time and place. My mother, at the age of seven, had to "shut down" her feelings to survive a desert death march and the death she saw around her in the 1915 Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. She only experienced hatred by the Turks toward the Armenians. From the age of seven onward, she had not experienced love, and therefore could not show it. I inherited her pain. I could not feel affection or show it. Music and food sedated my pain. The reevaluation of my mother's past, when I was 50 years old, led to an understanding of my mother and surprisingly, of myself. "Orphan in the Sands" is about the evolution from the depths of black despair to the liberation of the human spirit.

Review:

This exceptional autobiography should be called Two Orphans in the Sands, since it so movingly reveals suffering between two generations, a mother s and a daughter s. Virginia Haroutunian, the daughter of a tough survivor of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, tells of the many years it took for her to draw out of her usually reticent mother the story of her sad childhood as she struggled to survive the desert death marches of the Genocide and then her adolescent years tossed from orphanage to orphanage. Significantly enough, it took a return visit to Ellis Island to inspire the mother to reveal these old memories to Virginia. Sitting on one of the old oak benches in the Great Hall at the former U.S. Immigration Station, Virginia Haroutunian learned an extraordinary side of her mother that she had never known about before. The rural life of ancient Armenia became vivid as the mother relived the days of her girlhood when she was known as Tourvanda Ahigian. At last, the Armenian Genocide, the horrific loss of her parents and the subsequent orphan years in the Near East, was revealed quite plainly to Virginia. This book is particularly significant because it is a first person account of the effect of trauma on an individual family which is, in many respects, a microcosm of the suffering of the Armenian nation in 1915. Beyond this, the work reveals the trauma between two generations by showing the physical and mental suffering of the mother in her youth and, in spite of the safety of American shores, the daughter s own suffering brought on by her mother s lifelong emotional coldness and silence. Indeed a sad inheritance for a child. Orphan in the Sands is also a good source of firsthand information on Armenian life in the Near East and the treatment of refugees at the U.S Immigration Station on Ellis Island in the late 1920 s. It is therefore recommended for its historical revelations as well as it psychological and sociological insights. --Barry Moreno, Ellis Island Immigration Museum, January 1997

Horrors of One Generation Continue to Cause Harm by Neil Munro This may be a truism, but it bears repeating. History is not found in books alone, it still is with us. An example was brought to my attention a few days ago by Virginia Haroutunian, a Pontiac native through and through. She lived at Prospect and Sanford, earned a degree at the University of Michigan and returned to teach choral music to generations of pupils at Washington Middle School. She is of Armenian descent, bearing one of their melodious names. Retired from teaching, she devoted her time to writing a family memoir, centering on her mother, Victoria, who died at the age of 91. As a child, Victoria nearly was killed in the Armenian genocide, in which 60 percent of Armenians were slaughtered in an attempt by Turks to eliminate them. That madness lasted from 1915 to 1923, but she was helped by American missionaries and eventually arrived at Ellis Island, and then in Pontiac. Her daughter, Virginia , was kind enough to give me one of her books just before the 88th annual commemoration of the genocide . The book clearly, painfully, shows that the trauma the mother suffered so long ago stayed with her, and became part of the daughter. A woman lives among us to day who still feels, in a very real way, blows struck in hatred in a far-off country nearly a century ago. A life scarred scars in turn. The story in Virginia Haroutunians s book, Orphan in the Sands is not one she grew up with. It was not until well into adulthood that she be began to search for the source of her own sadness, a curse sometimes described as low self-esteem and a mysterious anxiety. It was on prompting her mother to tell the story she d hidden for years that she began to see where her own problems had begun. Victoria Haroutunian had buried her pain behind a mask of emotional distance from and criticism of her daughter. This sort of thing happens. I ve been close enough to it in my life to see that the phenomenon is real. At the end of her book, Virginia realizes there were two orphans in the sands. They were, of course, her mother whose parents had been killed, and herself. Before the end of her mother s life, the self-imposed barrier was gone. Openness sometimes is not easy, even under the best of circumstances. It is more difficult yet in the presence of an emotional scar. One can t help but be moved by the story of the Haroutunians, who were neighbors and a teacher of many in Pontiac, and by the thought that there are many others who carry the burden of cruelties inflicted on earlier generations. That s even though, as in Victoria Haroutunian s life, their pain is denied, even to their children, who are left wondering What s wrong with me? Victoria s daughter, who now lives in Bloomfield Hills, clearly is happy to have had the courage to explore her problem, to put it behind her and to be able to share it in her book. --Neil Munro, Oakland Press, April 2003

Author tells a strong story. By Hugh Gallagher Book: Orphan in the Sands by Virginia Haroutunian Everybody has a story to tell, if you dig deep enough, care enough to pay attention. The story that Virginia Haroutunian of Bloomfield Hills tells is two stories of how the hardships and loneliness of one life influenced another life. This self-published book is simply told though interestingly structured to delay the most dramatic elements until the end. It s a story that is painfully honest and sometimes confessional, but as all heartfelt stories do, it reaches out to us. The book begins with the arrival of Tourvanda Ahigian at Ellis Island in New York, an Armenian immigrant who must wait more than two months on the island before being allowed to go to Watervliet, New York. It follows her as she marries Michael Haroutunian, moves to Michigan, changes her name to Victoria and gives birth to two children. The focus then shifts to the youngest of these children, Virginia. At the center of the book is Virginia s confusion over her mother s emotional coldness, penny-pinching, nagging and general unhappiness. It has a strong and damaging effect on Virginia s life. Virginia s dream of being a concert pianist never comes to fruition. Her relationships with men never develop. Her attempts at independence are always thwarted. But she finds comfort in her family, especially her warm and understanding father, her friends and her work as a choral music teacher. This story is told boldly, each incident suggesting how the emotional repressions of her home life have created a crushing reserve in Virginia. As she reaches her 40s, the whole story begins to reveal itself. On a trip to Armenia in the late 70s, as the Soviet Union begins its first melting period, Virginia learns of her father s escape from Turkish soldiers. But it later, after her mother comes through a bout with cancer, that the mother insists on taking a trip to Ellis Island. Here, surrounded by the memories of her arrival in a free country, the mother (Myreeg in Armenian) finally breaks down and tells her daughter of her involvement as a child in what is called the Armenian genocide of 1915 at the hands of the Turks. The story of the forced starvation march, told in Myreeg s careful, broken English is effectively handled and placed for best dramatic effect. The story continues as Myreeg is placed in the home of a harsh Turkish family and then in an orphanage. She then tells how she finally made her way to her uncles in America. It must have been painful for Virginia Haroutunian to recreate this emotional watershed, which gives such insight into the special power of Ellis Island as a refuge from the tyranny of ethnic battles, political oppression and rank human cruelty. The revelations finally allow Virginia to come to terms with her own life. She ends the book with a nicely done coda in which she meets a friend and come to terms with the life she has. --Hugh Gallagher, Canton Observer, November 1997

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Virginia Haroutunian
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