Heaven and Hell

All the Light There Was (NetGalley)

Nancy Kricorian
Release date: March 2013

Both heaven and hell are here in this world.

Maral is fifteen, Armenian, and living in Paris at the time of the German occupation. Life is not easy in the cramped apartment she shares with her mother, father, aging aunt, and brother. Food is scarce and rationed, most meals consisting of bulgar and turnips. But her father, a cobbler, maintains a steady flow of customers, her mother is a seamstress and her aunt knits on commission, so at least at the beginning of the war, their lives maintain a semblance of normalcy.

Maral and her brother Missak have a sometimes contentious relationship, especially as she struggles to understand his participation in the Resistance: printing inflammatory pamphlets against the Nazis and chalking graffiti all over Paris. And Marel turns the head of Missak’s best friend Zaven who becomes Marel’s first love. Zavel and brother Barkev are also resisters and after an arrest are imprisoned in Paris–and then transported to Buchenwald.  Marel continues her studies at the French lycee and university, waiting, waiting, waiting for her Zavig’s return. But after months and months, Marel begins walking about (in secret) with Andon, an Armenian POW forced into conscription for the Nazis–a relationship frought with uncertainty and guilt.

The Pergorian family has survived and is still haunted by the atrocities of World War I. They know that community and faith can soften the depravity of war. And so it is without a second thought that Marel’s mother offers to harbor the five-year-old neighbor of a Jewish family who has been deported to a work camp. They hide Claire for several weeks before arranging for her to be smuggled to unoccupied Nice to live with her aunt. Missak supplements his opposition work by printing counterfeit ration coupons. It might very well be the small instances of resistance that preserves our sanity in the face of such misery.

I had hoped to learn more about the Armenians, a people who, I know, have a storied past. Nestled between the Middle East, Russia, and Europe, Armenians have fought fiercely to maintain their identity. Unfortunately, author Nancy Kricorian provided little of the nuanced history I was hoping to read. Ethnic foods and names and a few guarded references to the genocide during World War I were, sadly, as far as Kricorian went.

Marel’s story ends happily enough and All the Light is in the same vein as Sarah’s Key. Readers who enjoy similar books will find the story satisfying.

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