Today dear readers I am reviewing History of Forgetfulness (Published 22nd Oct 2021) By Shahé Mankerian. Happy Publication Day! A big thank you to the publishers Fly On The Wall Press for sending me a copy to read and review, always appreciated.
History of Forgetfulness
Shahé Mankerian releases his critically-acclaimed debut collection, taking readers back to 1975 Beirut, where an un-civil war is brewing. Mankerian asks, “Who said war didn’t love / the children?” setting the tone for a darkly humorous collection in which memories of love, religion and childhood are entangled amongst street snipers and the confusion of misguided bombings.
About The Author
Shahé Mankerian is the principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School and the director of mentorship at the International Armenian Literary Alliance (IALA). This debut collection has been a finalist at the Bibby First Book Competition, the Crab Orchard Poetry Open Competition, the Quercus Review Press Poetry Book Award, and the White Pine Press Poetry Prize.
In Mankerian’s debut collection he takes the readers back to 1975 in Beirut where an un-civil war taints every surface. The sound of bombs, gun fire and fear is thick in the air. This collection holds memories of Mankerian’s childhood; his innocence, along with religion, family and love. Told in two parts, these poems will open your eyes to what life was like growing up in a war zone. Prepare to witness some distressing, visceral scenes dear reader.
In the first poem Educating the Son the reader is greeted with just a small pinch of what is to come. The poem talks about how Mankerian got a job at the morgue in the summer as a young boy. His mother thought it would keep him off the streets and he jokes how death is a booming business as a civil war is brewing. This humorous approach at dark, distressing topics appears in most of his poems and makes you wonder if it is a self-defence technique. When life seems to be crumbling around you, the only thing to do to keep sane is laugh, to make light of it. We often find that if we make a joke about what scares us, it’s not as threatening. He writes in the poem that he would often smile when he encountered death because he didn’t know how to react to the shock of it. While Mankerian worked at the morgue he was in charge of clipping nails and making sure the bodies were pristine. The imagery used paints a vivid and bleak reality of a young boy cleaning dried blood from children with no legs. It sends shivers down your spine at the dark truth of how cruel and disturbing life can be. Mankerian would eat feta cheese on mouldy bread as he watched wives identify faceless men and mothers crying on the bodies of their sons. He wonders if his own mother would look for him when evening came. The poem leaves you with a powerful message of how Mankerian witnessed death before he could live. It’s a strong, powerful poem to open the collection with and sets the tone perfectly. The innocence of youth and the cloaked figure of death working alongside each other is striking and concerning, you feel as if you should look away but it’s also hypnotic to watch.
These poems are extremely personal and reveal to the reader the pain and absence of a father that Mankerian experienced growing up. In Baker’s Son he describes his father as Godzilla and how he would give him goosebumps whenever he was near. His father only wanted to speak with his belt and Mankerian wishes he would read him bedtime stories instead. He writes of how his father bakes bread with no flavour, it’s like pottery. The bread doesn’t rise and whenever he smells burnt bread he feels sick. To have such a violent reaction to a smell shows the reader how much of an impact his father had on him. As children we want only love and the safety of our parents arms holding us close. Unfortunately we can’t pick our family much like we can’t pick our childhood. Not only was a war going on around Mankerian but his home became a mine field the moment his father appeared. But it’s not all doom and gloom at home dear reader as his mother offers love and healing cooking, a chance of some sort of normality around the horrific scenes of war that surround them. There is still a little ray of hope amongst the dust and bullets.
The reality of how normal war seemed as it surrounded children and stole their childhoods is shocking to read. In Books a bomb was found ticking near the cafeteria so they didn’t go to school that day. They went wild with freedom, set fire to textbooks and kicked the belly of a cat. What caught me as I was reading this poem was how similar it felt to a snow day, or just a day off from school. No sense of fear or worry. It is as if war was a friend, one that popped in now and then to stir up trouble. This way of life is what the children knew, what they grew up thinking was normal. It’s deeply heartbreaking to read as you realise this happened to hundreds upon thousands of people and was their life.
I give History of Forgetfulness By Shahé Mankerian a Five out of Five paw rating.
Strong, absorbing, vivid imagery that hooks you from the moment you begin reading.
Blood, death and gunfire surrounds you at every turn, there’s little escape from the reality of war. It follows you like a bad smell, reluctant to disappear. Images of starving bellies that skip merrily to school as the blood overflows into the street and the sound of gunfire rings in the distance will pull you into the brutally honesty truth of war, of life. Mankerian captures it all. Life, war, childhood, religion, family, love, it will never be forgotten. It is hard to forget the honest reality of the world we live in. Cruel and beautiful. A constant conundrum in orbit that will cease to exist when the darkness consumes us all.
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