The Gendarme: a book review

Now, it isn’t often I gush about books other than Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. However, for the past several months I was eyeing up a book at work: The Gendarme, by Mark T Mustian. I’m a history buff, and take a keen interest in tidbits of information unknown by most. An example of this, which ties into my interest in the Gendarme, was in my grade 11 social studies class. The teacher asked which of us had heard of the Holocaust; naturally, everyone raised their hands. He then asked which of us had heard of the Armenian Genocide. Just me? Okay. I also have a history of only reading books written in the past tense. I’m not sure why I was so biased, but there was something about the present tense that I couldn’t stand. Reading the Hunger Games changed my mind some, and I was ready to try it again.

What would you do if the love of your life, and all your memories, were lost—only to reappear, but with such shocking revelations that you wish you had never remembered…

A haunting, deeply moving novel-an old man comes face-to-face with his past and sets out to find the love of his life and beg her forgiveness.

To those around him, Emmet Conn is a ninety-two-year-old man on the verge of senility. But what becomes frighteningly clear to Emmet is that the sudden, realistic dreams he is having are memories of events he, and many others, have denied or purposely forgotten. The Gendarme is a unique love story that explores the power of memory-and the ability of people, individually and collectively, to forget. Depicting how love can transcend nationalities and politics, how racism creates divisions where none truly exist, and how the human spirit fights to survive even in the face of hopelessness, this is a transcendent novel.

Emmet Conn has been living a lie since the end of World War I – without even realizing it. A head injury wiped away much of his memory of his childhood and the war, and he was forced to rebuild after recovering in a British hospital. Emmet’s health is quickly deteriorating, beginning with a brain tumor, but what is most disturbing to him are the dreams of a deportation and genocide he didn’t even know existed. As the story progresses, Emmet learns more about his own mysterious past, as well as the history kept hidden and denied by Turks since the First World War.

What really struck me about the Gendarme is the style in which it is written. It is present tense, but I was able to overlook that because the descriptions were so vivid and flawless. The scenes written in the present, during Emmet’s health problems, are choppy and short, without too much detail. It puts you in Emmet’s head, and his distorted thoughts and confusion. On the other hand, the scenes written as dream sequences, or memories into the past, are clear and concise, with great detail and beautiful – and often disturbing – imagery. The reader experiences firsthand how horrific the deportations of the Armenians from Turkey really was, not just through the eyes of a Turkish soldier, but those of an Armenian deportee as well.

The end is so striking and heartfelt – and painfully heart-wrenching, as well. You’ll find yourself rooting for a senile old man, while knowing in the back of your mind how it will play out. I cried like a baby.

The Gendarme is disturbing and beautiful, and pinpoints a dark part of history that few really know about. I recommend it to anyone – whether you like history, love stories, or have a peculiar dislike for the present tense, or what have you – this book appeals to everyone.

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