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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Candidate

Zareh Vorpouni

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To purchase The Candidate

Title: The Candidate
Author: Zareh Vorpouni
Genre: Novel
Written: 1967 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 185 pages
Original in: Western Armenian
Availability: The Candidate - US
The Candidate - UK
The Candidate - Canada
  • Armenian title: Թեկնածուն
  • Translated by Jennifer Manoukian and Ishkhan Jinbashian
  • With an Introduction by Jennifer Manoukian
  • With an Afterword by Marc Nichanian

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting literary reflection of its time(s) and themes

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Set in 1927, in a French setting familiar to the refugee author, The Candidate was only written in the mid-1960s; it is also part of a larger cycle, 'The Persecuted', the second of seven novels. The central character is Minas Yerazian, and while most of The Candidate is written in the third person, Minas eventually emerges as the author struggling with the story -- as is perhaps already obliquely hinted at in the novel's opening, a letter penned by Minas (i.e. already a first-person text).
       A succession of two deaths are the heart of the story, marking Minas: one is that of a friend he made, Vahakn ("Well, Vahaken, officially. The French insist on spelling it that way"), a suicide. The other is Ziya, murdered by Vahakn. The novel opens with the letter Minas writes, shortly after Vahakn's death, and the suicide continues to weigh heavily on him. He feels guilty -- even that:

He was the one responsible for Vahakn's death. The rest was just a story. Nothing more.
       It is Vahakn's lengthy suicide note -- "the rough draft of my novel", he calls it (and his life) -- that is the centerpiece of the novel; much later, as Minas emerges as the author, reflecting on the construction of his (and Vahakn's) story he understands that regardless of how he writes it:
It will be the axis of the piece, around which the characters in the story must be gathered, because what is being told is, after all, a story.
       Vahakn's suicide note includes the terrible story of his own childhood escape from the Armenian genocide -- his initial escape, horrific enough, only partial, his rescuer also abusing him. Vahakn writes that:
it's hard to pinpoint in our dark, inner abyss the decisions that eventually drive us to commit the fateful acts that shape our lives.
       But there's no doubt about why his inner abyss might be so dark.
       The two men, who briefly form a bond in a France very distant from their homeland and roots, are both not only out of place, but also not fully present in the here and now:
Like him, Vahakn was divorced from the present, too. The difference was in the fact that while Minas lived with harsh inner tension about the future, Vahakn was immersed in the chaos of the past
       Vahakn cannot escape his childhood experiences -- and the greater Armenian catastrophe he lived through. And, as Minas-as-author steps forward late in the novel, he explains:
Writing is bringing the past into the present. In this case, only Vahakn and his victim, Ziya, belong in the past. Apkar, Arshalouys, Hortense, Nicole, and I still continue to remain in the present. We cannot be part of history, and in the end, it wouldn't be possible or fair to relegate us, with the stroke of a knife, to the past, just to pull us back into the present.
       Just how enduring the struggle is, of dealing with the past and moving forward, is reflected also in the end of the book: again, like the opening, it consists of a letter penned by Minas, dated 6 June 1927 at the head -- and then: "Summer, 1965" after the signature, the time when Vorpouni completed the novel (though, maintaining the fiction, the name signed there is still that of: 'Minas Yerazian').
       The Candidate is also about the more mundane aspects of the Armenian émigré experience in France -- including Minas as breakfast cook and student -- while there is also the complicating factor of Arshalouys, Vahakn's wife, with whom Minas corresponds and whom he tries to help out (even as he struggles with his own complicated thoughts).
       The Candidate is also formally interesting, the writer grappling -- occasionally openly -- with how to present this story, the apparently omniscient narrator pushed aside at times by an author-character, while also repeatedly turning to the epistolary; Vahakn's long suicide note, confessional and reflective, is yet another first-person account.
       In her Introduction, Jennifer Manoukian suggests that:
Vorpouni's indirect apprenticeship with an eclectic collection of French avant-gardists (e.g., Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Marcel Proust, Paul Valéry, and Paul Verlaine) manifests itself structurally and thematically.
       Indeed, The Candidate seems very much a product between times -- reminiscent of both 1920 and 1960s experimentation -- and French and Armenian cultures (specifically, but not solely literary). It is certainly also of interest as such -- an addition to the European corpus that has familiar elements, yet is also distinctive.
       An unusual work -- though one that likely works better seen in the context of the entire seven-volume series Vorpouni wrote -- and interesting both as account of the twentieth-century Armenian experience as well as simply literarily.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 May 2017

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The Candidate: Zareh Vorpouni: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Armenian author Zareh Vorpouni (Զարեհ Որբունի) lived 1902 to 1980.

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© 2017-2020 the complete review

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