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The Depth of RIVERBIG

Posted By Karen Young On June 20, 2009 @ 10:18 pm In Literary Corner | No Comments

atina110x110BY ATINA HARTUNIAN

The novel, Riverbig, written by Aris Janigian, is a story that follows Andy Demerjian. Andy is a remarkable character:  a combination of Americana hard work ethics and Armenian resilience and tenacity. These two traits reveal themselves throughout the novel, surfacing whenever the situation calls for either one of them.

Andy is a first generation Armenian- American who teeters between the world of the odars, the non-Armenian, and that of his people. Although he is invested in his community and church, compared to the rest of his extended family he is progressive in his thinking.

But this is not how we’re introduced to Andy in the beginning of the story. No — we find Andy drowning in a pit of self-loathing. He’s full of hate for not playing the hand life has dealt him right. How does a college-educated framer go from owning 25 acres of land to driving a second hand truck, cargoing fruit from Fresno to LA on a daily basis? How could he have ever thought his own brother would cheat him out of that piece of land?  How could he let his wife and family down like this?   These are the thoughts and dark memories that keep Andy company as he sits trapped in that truck for a 1000-mile ride.

Rather than pull himself out of this sink-hole, he lets himself get caught in a current of destruction: drinking binges, lying to his devoted wife, getting deeper and deeper into debt.  Smashing his life into a tempestual storm of degradation and kicked ego. Here was a man who could not adequately provide for his family, and neither one of his Americana or Armenian strengths could prevent him from getting sucked in the undertow.

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Now, in the Armenian tradition, one’s plot in life or fate is sealed before they’re even born. It is believed that someone’s fate is set in stone by divine providence and to change things is nearly impossible. Luckily, this does not register with Andy. For the sake of his family, he beings that treacherous climb out of his watery grave and turn his life around.

Throughout the novel, Andy is constantly running up against walls with every venture he pursues. He first consults renting land from an old Armenian widow, Mrs. Chamichian, who is skeptical about Andy’s plans to plant tomatoes on her land. Then came the opportunity to manage a piece of land for some entrepreneur odars, non-Armenians. With every endeavor he overcomes his obstacles with a relentless work ethic. With hard work and incredible focus he is able to turn the tides and begin to change his fate around.

When he does have a moment to pause from his day-to-day life and reflect we get a glimpse of the troubling thoughts Andy carries within him. These deep physiological issues surface and swell up from time to time and we find Andy struggling to reconcile them as he tries to move forward and make a better life for his family.

Underneath the gritty exterior of this farmer, we find Andy conflicted with troubling issues that haunt him throughout the story: There was the unresolved issues with his family, his brother who betrayed him. The sense of belonging in this “odar” world. The advantages these others had in life.  To Andy, they seemed to be miles ahead of where he is and was going. Comfort for them wasn’t even out of reach it was handed to them, while Andy struggled tenaciously to provide those same comforts for his family, if not for himself.  And – more poignantly- the burden of carrying cultures anguish at the injustices they’ve suffered through.

Within this internal tension, Janigian raises not only questions but also the complexity of the Diasporas psyche. The Armenian community faces the same challenges not only learning how to balance between these two sets of worlds they occupy, but also working through the problems they present. In this way, Riverbig takes on another dimension making Andy a study of the American-Armenian mind, a study of the Armenian Identity.

Aris Janigian poses bold and daring questions that surface quietly in Riverbig. They are the types of questions that need to be addressed as individuals, as a community and as a culture. This is why authors like Aris Janigian’s are so vital because they expose and explore trends in their own community and culture that may not even be aware of.  It takes a brave voice to bring these issues to light in the hopes of progressing strongly into the future.

Atina Harunian’s articles have appeared in North Valley Community News,  The Armenian Reporter,  The Pasadena Weekly, as well as current urban development for Fourstory.org. She is also website content manager and freelance writer: www.atinahartunian.blogspot.com. For inquiries, comments, questions, or marine concern please e-mail her at ahartuni@hotmail.com

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