Jeanette Arax Melnick's painting is on the cover of the novel "The Ash Tree" about the aftermath in America for the survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. A show of her paintings was reviewed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (see a copy of the review in the post for December 3, 2015). Here is a YouTube video of the exhibition:
Two showings of "The Promise," dramatizing the 1915 Genocide of the Armenians in Turkey, on December 10 were sold out at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in the Cleveland area - Beachwood, Ohio. Each showing was followed by a panel discussion led by Daniel Melnick, author of "The Ash Tree," the 2015 novel about the Armenian American family of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide.
Introduction and readings from "The Ash Tree" by Daniel Melnick at the 3rd Annual Book and Author Luncheon on October 22 in Detroit, sponsored by the Armenian Genocide Committee of Greater Detroit. The keynote speaker was the courageous historian Taner Akcam, who presented the Turkish documents attesting to the 1915-1918 Genocide.
Joann Quinn interviewed me on one of her Profiles about my novel "The Ash Tree" - the story of the California family of a survivor of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. It was conducted about one year ago, and I've finally found the website link to it. Here it is!
"The Ash Tree" - my novel about the California family of a survivor of the 1915 Armenian Genocide - was shortlisted for Stanford University's biennial William Saroyan International Writing Prize for fiction. It is the sole shortlisted novel with Armenian content. The final selection for the prize will be announced within a month.
Review in the Mirror-Spectator, October 2016:
THE ASH TREE – a novel – by Daniel Melnick. West of West Books,
2015. 302 pgs. $25.
Review by Paula Bloch
[Paula Bloch is a retired adviser, administrator, and teacher at Cleveland
Commemorations are a fixture in our public lives. We mark dates to call
to mind a particular event or to teach a new generation the importance of a
momentous occurrence. Much was made in the general media in late April of the
Armenian Genocide of 1915; however, the public remembrances were fleeting – a
quick story in the nightly television or radio broadcast or a newspaper story.
Adding to the fragility of the stories is that this is a centenary remembrance;
most, if not all, of the eyewitnesses are gone. Who will re-tell the
facts and explore the ramifications of early twentieth century tragedies? Both
historians and fiction writers offer different approaches and perspectives.
One such narrative is Daniel Melnick's THE ASH TREE which
strikes a delicate balance between history and fiction. Permeating the book are
references to actual events and places. And to sensory memories of “plump
oil-cured olives in Constantinople…anchovies, the brine washed off [having] the
savor of a kiss…and oranges [tasting] of sunlight and the tree.” The sense of
place is strong, whether Turkey, Armenia, or California and Fresno.
A basic timeline of the book takes one family from 1915 to 1972. The prologue,
however, opens in 1972 California with a death in the family of Armen and
Artemis Ararat. This violent death ruptures their world. It will take the
rest of the story to explore why this death occurred and to understand the
characters who inhabit this world.
Although both from Armenian families, Armen
Ararat and Artemis Haroutian are of different temperaments and outlooks. When
we first meet Armen, he witnesses neighbors and teachers being killed in
Turkey. Some 10 years later as a student at Berkeley, he remembers his European
past and honors his relationship to it. He feels that all the immigrants had
been permanently scarred by what they carried with them from Turkey. In
contrast, Connecticut-born Artemis Haroutian did not want to marry a man born
in the old country and “had always wanted a suitor who was free of the agony of
1915...not weighted down by foreignness and history.” These two positions haunt
the characters and the novel. Melnick gives voice to the ambivalence of any
group in a diaspora – to hold sacred the memory of the past and to forge a new,
more hopeful life.
The strength of the novel is its careful summoning of a particular world that
is the Armenian community centered in Fresno and the universality of the human
inter-actions that makes this applicable to all. Early on in the novel, Armen's
landlady says that what is important is that the family survives. Armen and
Artemis build a life together for their children, Tigran, Garo and Juliet. They
give up their early dreams of lives centered on poetry and art and focus on the
difficult reality of raising a family. Although he is a recognized poet,
Armen is known more for his business dealings. He struggles with the thought
that his mastery of Armenian has no place in American life. Language eludes
them both. We see this through Melnick's lens which does use language with
sensitivity and clarity.
As the Ararat children grow, they become part of the wider world, forging
relationships outside the Armenian community. Marriage and business dealings
extend their boundaries. The novel takes on a more intimate and emotional layer
as Juliet marries Sammy Weisberg, a young Jewish man.
It is here that
history and narrative fiction most strongly overlap. Juliet and Sammy mirror
the author and his wife, Jeanette Arax Melnick whose painting is the cover art
of THE ASH TREE. The Ararat family is based on the Arax
family; yet, there is so much more of the interior lives of these characters
inhabiting these pages.
As the novel comes full circle from 1972 back to 1972, we can see that one
death can stand for all losses and bereavements. Geography cannot change the
fragility of life, but memory helps to offer solace. Daniel Melnick honors both
those who know Armenian loss and those who wish to understand such losses in
our lives generally.
Beachwood artist explores Armenia, geometry, Sid Vicious and folk art in exhibit
[Here's a link to the YouTube video of Jeanette's show:
Art is always personal. But it goes beyond that in the case of Jeanette Arax Melnick, who will exhibit her works at the Beachwood Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. (John Petkovic/The Plain Dealer)
You can see it in "The Quince Tree," a work that was inspired by a photo of her and her father, taken when she was a little girl, in 1946. The photo is in the work itself, along with photos of her grandchildren, children and husband.
But her relationship with the world is as much spatial one – in which she absorbs aspects of it through the senses or through patterns rather than just the heart or mind.
"Sometimes I just look at the world and see all these geometric shapes and I see aspects of my paintings in them," says Arax Melnick. "Like right now I'm sitting in a room looking at pillows or I could be looking at an oriental carpet and finding interesting patterns."
There is little pattern when it comes to divining the Fresno, Ca. native's style – which shoehorns folk art and "museum type art," as she likes to say.
"Art was always my companion and I never sought out to follow a particular style or painter," she says. "I started to study painting at (University of California, Berkley), but I switched to history because I realized that I wanted to be my own painter."
She delved into medieval history, along with the "flatness" found in its art. She has created in the shadows of a family history that extends back to the Armenian genocide of 1915 – which led to her family settling in California.
"Armenian history is very complicated, especially with Turkey denying the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians," says Arax Melnick, whose husband Daniel Melnick recently released a novel that honors the memory of the genocide. "And yet that complication has given me a feeling for the suffering of all mankind."
"As a child, I was inspired looking at old Armenian manuscripts and seeing these people with big brown eyes and soulful looks," she adds. "They look like they've suffered and yet survive and go on."
Sid Vicious -- the English punk from a much later time, 1970s London – captivated her in a very different way.
"Sid Vicious," one of works by Jeanette Arax Melnick that will be on display at the Beachwood Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.John Petkovic/The Plain Dealer
"I never listened to his music, though I know Aaron and Lennie have," says Arax Melnick, referring to her sons, co-founders of legendaryCleveland hardcore band Integrity. "I just loved his face and the zippers."
For years, the painting hung at the old Arabica on Coventry. Arax Melnick received a number of offers for it, but chose to hold onto it.
"It's hard to give up on that Sid Vicious," she says. "I've never looked at the money side of it."
It's all matter of perspective, even when it comes to art.
"I tend to avoid perspective and I think it's given my work a certain character," she says. "I'll have a table that looks like it's floating and could see it as an illusion, but to me it's just how I see it and see the world. So I guess you could say the world is an illusion, too."