Dana Walrath – Like Water on Stone
Genocide is incomprehensible. Maus made the European Jewish Holocaust more accessible, using a graphic novel format. Walrath uses verse to tell of the Armenian Genocide, reminiscent of the book of Lamentations describing the desolation of Jerusalem after the Babylonian siege in 586 BCE.
But Walrath’s story is more personalized, based on her own family’s experience, weaving the elements of people, events, and attitudes strand by strand, and with an interwoven thread of mystical empowerment in the form of an eagle character. The eagle evokes other times when oppressed people have relied on symbolic soothing such as the transcendent dancing of Hassidim in Eastern Europe and of Aboriginal North Americans.
We know from the map at the beginning of the book that someone survives and eventually arrives in New York. All of these elements – the story, in verse, the eagle, the map – make the process of understanding the Armenian genocide less starkly overwhelming, and so creating the possibility that readers will be able to finish this tale of real terror and perhaps appreciate the implications of this horrific crime enough to join with others in calling for human rights and justice for these people and all people subjected to murderous regimes.
At the core of Walrath’s story is the question of whether it is ever possible to overcome ethnic hatred. History is sobering, with prominent, recent, and ongoing examples of mass violence and the sluggish responses of potentially powerful protectors that are usually too late. Are we doomed to repeat these experiences? Can books such as this help us to move civilization toward more effective and longstanding proactive efforts? I hope so.