The Week in Books 2009, No. 30

Antonia Arslan’s novel Skylark Farm is based on the experiences of her family during the Armenian genocide in Turkey. Using memories told to her by her grandfather and her father’s cousins, Arslan reconstructed the story of how her family managed to survive in the horribly grim evacuation, forced marches, lootings, torture, and mass murders perpetrated by the Young Turks against the Armenian Christian minority during World War I. Although I had some knowledge of the Armenian situation, reading this book added depth to the historical narrative and humanized the atrocity.

My only regret is that I couldn’t read this book in the original language. I always wonder what has been lost in translation when I read a book that is so highly personal and emotional. At times I felt like Skylark Farm was like a sketch of a painting. It is well done and conveys the picture adequately, but I wished at times that Arslan would have explored the characters and events in more depth (not necessarily more detail: I think she did a good job of using spare details to convey the horror without descending into lurid descriptions). I would have been ok with the book being longer if it could have been richer.

That said, I think the book is a good one to read if you are unfamiliar with what happened to the Armenians, or if you are interested in novels based heavily on historical memory.

The Home Creamery was all right as a very basic look at how to make your own butter, yogurt, cream cheese, etc. Most of the recipes can be done with things you already have on hand, and are simple and printed in very large font. I didn’t actually try any of the recipes because I didn’t have the time and extra milk on hand, but I could see myself trying the mozzarella and cream cheese. Then again, there are probably lots of recipes for those online.

If you’re looking for a good first start in what to do with milk other than drink it plain, this might be a good book to peruse.

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