Exile, a Boy, and a Dog Named Kaylo: Young Adult Novel Focuses on Hamidian Massacres
In the Shadow of the Sultan
By R.P. Sevadjian
Cyprus: Yerani (2014)
In the Shadow of the Sultan, by R.P. Sevadjian, is a young adult novel that records the journey of an Armenian boy who, after the murder of his father, flees his home and travels 200 miles to reach his family. The story is set in the Ottoman Empire in 1896 during the Hamidian Massacres, which caused the death and displacement of tens of thousands of Armenians. The novel provides insight into Armenian history and culture while following the life of an Armenian boy who is forced to endure many hardships with only his dog, Kaylo, as a companion. The main character and narrator of the story exemplifies the Western Armenian in search of the home that has been taken away from him—strong and resilient, and above all hopeful.
Sevadjian proves that while fear cuts through all our defenses, hope is essential to our humanness. Although the main character lived a somewhat comfortable life in Western Armenia with his family, he had limited rights under the law, was watched carefully by the gendarmes, and was treated with the same contempt proffered to other Armenians. An underlying fear penetrated every comfort that he was provided. He held dreams of returning home and becoming a veterinarian, even as he prepared to leave his birthplace without the privilege of knowing what awaited him.
The narrator is faced with people intent on stealing or harming him, as well as those determined to help him on his journey. Kaylo, his gampr dog, is at times the only one he can trust. Amidst jabs and people confronting him for being a “rich Armenian boy,” he continues on his way, longing to reach his family. Hope spurs him on even as the days continue, marked by his diminishing supply of food, accounting for every slice of bastekh, every bit of cheese, and every mark he carves into the side of a stick to indicate the passing of days. Sevadjian frequently draws attention to time; it is carefully marked. Not a day of the boy’s journey remains unaccounted.
The fear of uncertainty is palpable, but this is a story in which hope carries the characters forward. While traveling with the caravan and Baron Garabed, the boy sings a song, “Cilicia,” which reflects his own exile and the heartsickness he feels at the thought of never being able to return to his homeland.
He knows he will never return home. The time he spent on his land with his family is the “before,” and the moment proceeding his father’s murder is the “after”—that is where his journey begins, marked by the people he meets, the measurable disappearance of food, and the passing of time.
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Source: Armenian Weekly
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