“Two men lie dead in a suburban living room, two women are on the run from police, and a marriage is ripping apart at the seams.” This is the chilling synopsis of Chris Bohjalian’s newly published novel The Guest Room, which Bohjalian presented to a Fresno State audience on January 8, 2016.
Bohjalian is the New York Times best-selling author whose work has been translated into more than 30 languages and has been adapted into movies three times. In his presentation, Bohjalian gave the audience insight on why he wrote his previous novel, The Sandcastle Girls, shared discoveries about his ancestors, spoke about his recent visits to historic Armenia, and introduced The Guest Room – his newest publication.
The lecture was co-sponsored by the Armenian Studies Program of Fresno State and the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society.
The Sandcastle Girls, published in 2012, is a novel about the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s century long denial. Unlike traditional books on the Genocide, however, Bohjalian’s take on history revolves around a page turning love story.
“The Sandcastle Girls is not the first time I tried to write a novel about the Armenian Genocide,” explained Bohjalian. “I tried as a much younger man in the early 1990’s with a whole manuscript. When I finished reading it, I realized it was a train wreck…and I remember thinking to myself, why does anyone need my take on this story when we have the work of Carol Edgarian, Peter Balakian, and of course Franz Werfel.”
Commenting on his decision to repackage the story of the Genocide as a dramatic love story Bohjalian stated “When I tried again, beginning in 2010, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to be writing it for our community. We know these numbers. We know these stories…I made the decision that instead, I needed to approach this for North Americans who could not find Aleppo on a map, readers…who knew nothing of this part of our history.”
Bohjalian was not the first in his family to write about the Armenian Genocide. “I had mistakenly assumed that I was the first Bohjalian to try to make sense out of the Armenian Genocide in art when, in fact, I am but the second,” remarked Bohjalian reflecting on his recent discovery that his great grandfather, who was thought to be a tailor, was actually a prodigious troubadour, “a Bruce Springsteen of the Anatolian plains in the 1860’s and early 1870’s.”
The past three years have been a time of discovery for Bohjalian as he has made three trips to historic Armenia. Recounting his experience, Bohjalian highlighted a visit to the Dudan Crevasse, a mass unmarked grave near Chunkush, Turkey. Incidentally, the visit led him to an emotional meeting with Asiya, a 98-year old Islamized Armenian and the last Armenian in Chunkush, which once had a population of 10,000 Armenians.
Visits to historic and modern Armenia have inspired Bohjalian’s writing. The Guest Room had its origins in 2014 when Bohjalian was in Yerevan, Armenia. While in the lobby of a hotel in the middle of the night, Bohjalian spotted a young escort.
“We’ve all seen escorts in nice hotels in San Francisco, or Chicago, or New York,” remarked Bohjalian, “but this was especially hard for me as a father, and heartbreaking for me because it was in Yerevan.” This encounter sparked Bohjalian’s research in human trafficking, the outcome of which was his newest literary thriller.
Despite having been newly released, The Guest Room has already received acclaim.
“I love the way that readers are commenting that they want to see Yerevan. I love the way that people are sort of debating on what they would do if they were married to Richard,” concluded Bohjalian.