________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 1 . . . . August 29, 2008


Daughter of War.

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008.
210 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-55455-044-9.

Subject Heading:
Armenian massacres, 1915-1923-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

*** /4


He could smell the first concentration camp a mile away. The sickly sweet odour of disease and death came to him in waves with the hot desert breeze. Soon he could hear it: crying babies and children, the screaming of mothers, and the groans of people in death throes. One person making these sounds would have been bad enough, but multiplied by the thousands there was no more hellish sound on earth.

When the camp finally came into view, it was a horizon of tattered tents, spanning as far as the eye could see. Kevork walked toward the encampment, dreading what he would find. He took measured breaths, not wanting to take in any more of the fetid air than necessary.

The first tent he reached was pitched by itself on the outskirts of the camp. At first he thought it was abandoned, but then he heard faint singing from inside. He reached out to the ragged flap and pulled it open. A wave of putrid odour slapped him in the face. Holding his breath, Kevork crouched down to look inside. There lay a woman whose wizened face was shriveled like a discarded apple. On her lap was a child swollen in death and loosely wrapped in a lice-encrusted blanket. The woman rocked the child back and forth and cooed lovingly into her ear, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the child was dead.


Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s novel, Daughter of War, is hard-hitting and troublesome and, as she would wish, highly educational. Set during World War I, Daughter of War is a story of the Armenian genocide in Turkey. The book is gritty and mostly unsentimental. Skrypuch has a story to tell, and, despite the young age of her target audience, she wants not to do an injustice to her subject matter. As such, Skrypuch does not hold back. Readers will find her writing confrontational and disturbing.

      As the 16-year-old protagonist, Kevork, travels from place to place to render aid to the suffering Armenian people, he repeatedly sees things that no one should see—let alone a child. Skrypuch has selected this storytelling device deliberately. She wants her young readers to see the things that people saw in Turkey in 1916. She wants her novel to be a means of awakening people to the atrocities — indeed, the very existence — of that terrible moment in human history.

      Other than Kevork, other central characters include his betrothed, Marta, and Marta’s sister, Mariam. After her forced separated from Kevork, the 15-year-old Marta is made to become part of a polygamist harem where she becomes pregnant. Neither Kevork nor Marta know if their beloved partner is still alive and so, amidst the death and horror of the genocide, there remains the flicker of love, devotion and hope so important to survival and to dreams of a better future.

      As is evidenced by the following excerpt, this book does not make for pleasant reading:

The first thing that greeted them when they stepped off the train was an overpowering stench. It was one that Kevork was all too familiar with: decomposing corpses. He turned his head and saw a huge mound of dead bodies right beside the platform. A rubbish pile of dead Armenians who had been left there to rot.

      Elsewhere, the book deals also with child labour, teenage rape and pregnancy, typhus outbreaks and concentration camps. This book is only for mature readers capable of dealing with disturbing subject matter. Twenty-seven chapters and 210 pages in length, Daughter of War is a powerful and moving read—not one to be entered into lightly, but highly educational for those who can handle the mature content.


Gregory Bryan teaches children’s literature and literacy education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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