Birbul’s Blue

Turkey, 1915.  The dying days of the Ottoman Empire. Against the backdrop of a world war and a disintegrating empire, a trio of ruthless ministers seized power and pressed long-simmering agendas, which included the elimination of the Armenians. What a time for young Gayen Bashian to come of age and fall in love!

Spanning forty years, this is Guy’s story of longing and loss, and of the courage and connivance required to triumph in a world gone mad. Throughout, the luminous Oriental rugs of her family’s business mirror how a life can come together and apart.

Early reader response:

“I found myself gripped by Birbul’s Blue, eager to return to the page.  Denise Shekerjian is obviously a fine writer, and she has created a compelling voice in her young heroine.  She has an eye for detail, too, and this brings a wrenching era to life in this subtle novel.”      —  Jay Parini

“Denise Shekerjian’s luminous novel Birbul’s Blue is narrated by a fifteen-year-old girl, from an Armenian rug merchant’s family, who comes to adulthood and wisdom in the worst of times. Its exquisite language and compelling plot call to mind Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire. Both take place at the crossroads of East and West; both recount the ravages of a World War; and both are, above all, memorable love stories.   — Shelby Hearon


Accounts vary, of course.

Ask me, and our milk soured in the winter of 1915, the snow drifted so high in places, it blocked the windows, the distinctive crunch of a neighbor’s step the first sign that he was at the door.  It was January, and with my seventeenth birthday just passed, I had assumed at last my firm place in womanhood, my shoulders square.  Many things were promised in this new age, but never what came.

Ask me then, and I would have said that among the many blessings of my bountiful life was my curious sense of immunity, my coat with all its buttons and my hat in place. Past wounds of childhood, grave and silly, had softened. My future was etched in sunlight.

But things came that were not predicted, not by the old women with their tongues working, and by not the fortuneteller in the square. Not even Auntie, who scrutinized the tracings of silt left in all our coffee cups, suggested that perhaps we ought to pull the mists from our eyes.  “Run along, girl, and put the water to warm.” I was no longer a girl, but I did what she asked. We knew our roles. We didn’t look, couldn’t imagine. We just went on, so much of life lining up by chance. So there I was on a normal day, with the others and with him as well, all of us lined up outside my father’s shop at the moment I fix as the beginning.


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