Book review by Paul Chaderjian
By any account, the enigmatic genius, scholar, political activist, soldier, and freedom fighter Monte Melkonian led a short but extraordinary life. In My Brother’s Road, which will be released in paperback in August, Monte’s brother Markar, with the help of Monte’s widow Seta, chronicles one Californian’s journey from small town kid to legendary martyr. Monte’s modern-day epic begins in 1969, when the Melkonians visit their maternal grandmother’s ancestral village in Western Armenia, some 55 years after the Genocide. At the impressionable age of 11, Monte sees his grandmother’s birthplace, watches the Turks who have taken up residence in the village, notices that the Armenian Church has become a Turkish movie theater, and ponders about the outlines left when crosses were chiseled off doors.
His people had disappeared from the village and the region, millions of Armenians had evaporated from the face of the planet, and Turkey still denied it had done anything wrong. This great riddle and his family’s visit to the old country shape Monte’s eventual mission to seek justice for the crimes against his people. Monte’s humanitarian concern develops further at Mt. Whitney High School in Visalia, California.
In 1973 at the age of 15, Monte – the “mentally gifted minor” bored with his high school courses – is invited to spend three months in Japan as a sister-city representative from Visalia to Miki City, near Osaka. After the visit, Monte decides to stay with some friends in Japan, to earn money teaching English and then to travel through Southeast Asia on his own. These travels raise his awareness of peoples’ struggles for self-determination and independence. During his studies at UC Berkeley, Monte becomes feverish about righting the wrongs done to Armenians. He decides to bypass doctoral studies at Oxford and commits himself selflessly to the Armenian independence movement in the early 1980s.
Monte’s mission for justice takes him to the suburbs of Beirut, to Tehran, and to Paris, where his activities eventually land him in a European jail cell. These chapters of his life read like a fictional Hollywood account of a hero’s or antihero’s intriguing involvement with secret armies, assassination plots, and lessons learned to make possible his victories on the battlefield of Karabakh at the end of his life. When Perestroika and Glastnost present the opportunity for Monte’s people to declare their independence from the USSR, the modern-day freedom fighter’s focus shifts from Western Armenia to Karabakh, where Armenians are the victims of barbaric pogroms and Armenian children are burned on kitchen stoves, reminiscent of the atrocities suffered by his grandmother’s family and others like them during the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
During the early 1990s, when Armenians are cold and hungry, facing an economic and energy blockade, Monte and others like him from the diaspora reach back to the homeland from all obscure corners of the world. The sons and daughters of the diaspora, the grandchildren of Genocide survivors return to their ancestral homeland to help turn their people from victims to victors. My Brother’s Road is an intriguing look into the psychology of a man who left “the good life” behind in the bountiful San Joaquin Valley of Central California to stand up for those oppressed overseas. It is both an educational and historical atlas of the road traveled not just by one man but by a people struggling for cultural preservation and freedom near the end of the 20th century.
About the book:
My Brother's Road: An American's Fateful Journey to Armenia
Hardcover: 344 pages
Publisher: I. B. Tauris (February 24, 2005)
Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
"Monte Melkonian's death left us with a riddle. How could a boy from California's heartland become a terrorist in the eyes of the FBI and a saint in the soul of a faraway nation? Who better to take up that riddle than his older brother, Markar? From the fruit fields of the San Joaquin Valley to the killing fields of the Caucasus, he brings home an unforgettable memoir."--Mark Arax, author of In My Father's Name, Staff Writer for the Los Angeles Times.
"An astonishing book...Melkonian's adventures read like a modern odyssey. 'My Brother's Road' gives a little meaning to a life of political extremism. It sweeps aside the polarised views of this complicated figure, presenting him neither as complete hero nor complete villain. In the end we are left simply with a man who found it impossible to live impassively in the shadow of his people's calamity, the Armenian Genocide, and who sacrificed everything to try and correct the wrongs of the past."--Philip Marsden, author of the award-winning The Crossing Place: A Journey among the Armenians.
"With a brother's memory and a philosopher's keen judgement, Melkonian reanimates a truly remarkable life."--Nancy Kricorian, author of Zabelle and Dreams of Bread and Fire.
"A searing and unforgettable testimony of the revolt against justice denied. This is an excellent book, well-written, and driven by a sense of commitment which never overshoots into sentimentality or chauvinism."--Christopher Walker.