The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

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by Franz Werfel

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The book that first drew America's attention to the Armenian Genocide, which began 100 years ago on April 24, 1915.

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh is Franz Werfel's masterpiece, bringing him international acclaim and a BOMC Main Selection.

First published in 1933, the chilling and riveting story takes place along the Anatolian coast in the mountain villages

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The book that first drew America's attention to the Armenian Genocide, which began 100 years ago on April 24, 1915.

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh is Franz Werfel's masterpiece, bringing him international acclaim and a BOMC Main Selection.

First published in 1933, the chilling and riveting story takes place along the Anatolian coast in the mountain villages that chose to disobey the deportation order of the Turkish government, fearlessly repelling Turkish soldiers and police throughout the summer of 1915. Most significantly, it is the first book to deal seriously with "ethnic cleansing," an early clarion call that some heard but few heeded. This edition presents the first full English translation, with an introduction by Vartan Gregorian.

In every sense, a true and thrilling novel.—The New York Times Book Review

Editorial Reviews

In August 1939, to warm his commanders' cold feet before invading Poland, Adolf Hitler is alleged to have asked: "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" Silence gainsays guilt. Today, in 2012, it is illegal in Turkey to speak about those deaths — more than a million during and after World War I — as genocide. In France, however, denying that Armenians were singled out for slaughter is a crime. The word genocide was coined, by Raphael Lemkin, only in 1944, but it is now applied not only to the liquidation of Lemkin's fellow European Jews but also to campaigns of extermination in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, and elsewhere. Except in Turkey, it is widely applied, retroactively, to the Armenian bloodbath almost a century ago.

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh was first published in 1933, barely a decade after the Armenian genocide. Franz Werfel (1890–1945) was a German-speaking Jew born in Prague, and he and the readers of his meticulously researched novel realized that the eradication of Armenians in Turkish lands bore an ominous resemblance to what was beginning to happen to the Jews of Europe. Werfel's book was banned in Germany, but it was a huge success elsewhere in the world and did more than the efforts of any diplomat, journalist, or historian to encourage speech about the unspeakable. Histories, memoirs, and fictions have since been published about the Armenian genocide, and, though Edgar Hilsenrath's The Story of the Last Thought (1989) might be the most respected novelistic rendition, none has diminished the power of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. The Uncle Tom's Cabin of the Armenian genocide, it arrives today — when Syria and Congo are killing fields — as a timely reminder that savagery thrives in silence.

The 1934 American edition was truncated in order to fit into a single volume and the marketing plans of the Book-of-the Month Club. Translator Geoffrey Dunlop cut more than 10 percent of the novel, eliminating local details that Werfel had prided himself on getting right. This 894-page edition restores the missing sections, in a translation by poet James Reidel that is compatible with Dunlop's. It allows English readers to experience the enormity of what happened in 1915 in eastern Anatolia, on a promontory above the Mediterranean called Musa Dagh — Mount Moses. Missing from this volume, though, are the map, the inventory of characters, and the glossary that helped Americans make sense of Werfel's wrenching story: how 5,000 Armenians abandoned the seven villages at the base of the mountain and held out against a Turkish military determined to evacuate and eradicate them. He fictionalizes actual events and characters, changing names and reducing the fifty- three-day ordeal to a biblical forty days. Unlike other Central European authors of Jewish origin such as Hermann Broch, Elias Canetti, and Alfred Döblin, Werfel was no formal innovator. Though written in the fourth decade of the twentieth century, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh is a nineteenth-century novel, with an Olympian perspective and the occasional intrusive commentary characteristic of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Emile Zola. "Is there not in every Frenchman an inborn gardener and fruit grower?" asks the author, and, though a quibbler might cavil, it is best to accept the author's omniscience, even when he is propounding inanities such as "Whoso sees his father sees God." Werfel crosscuts between Turkish commanders, in Istanbul and Antioch as well as in the field, and their Armenian prey. He also follows the futile efforts of Johannes Lepsius, a German minister intent on keeping the Turks from perpetrating "an anti- Christian persecution of such dimensions that former persecutions under Nero or Diocletian bear no comparison." But Werfel's principal focus is on the defenders of Musa Dagh, who, as resolute and imperfect as the defenders of the Alamo and the Warsaw Ghetto, choose to fight rather than submit to death.

Chief among them is Gabriel Bagradian, a wealthy intellectual who returns to his ancestral estate with a French wife, Juliette, and a thirteen- year-old son, Stephan, after twenty-three years in Paris. Gabriel's reacquaintance with Armenian life provides a pretext for explaining the customs of "a race of merchants, craftsmen, and bookworms, people averse to the military ideal." Though mistrusted as an outsider, Gabriel assumes military command of Musa Dagh, in uneasy alliance with Ter Haigasun, the priest who exercises overall authority. Alienated from the doomed culture she has married into, Juliette becomes romantically involved with Gonzague Maris, a French-Greek adventurer whose American passport promises deliverance for both. Lacking food, ammunition, and hope, the Armenians continue their resistance until this prodigious novel's dramatic, unexpected conclusion.

Steven G. Kellman is a professor of comparative literature at University of Texcas at San Antonio, where he has taught since 1976. His most recent book is Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth (2005).

Reviewer: Steven G. Kellman

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Godine, David R. Publishers, Inc.
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5.70(w) x 8.50(h) x 2.10(d)

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The Forty Days of Musa Dagh 4.6 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
How do I begin describing this book? this marvelous novel penned by an Austrian writer who was not indebted to the Armenian people and owed them nothing. How do I describe and compress this eight-hundred page long book into a miniscule summary? The truth of the matter is, is that words alone cannot describe Franz Werfel's 'The Forty Days of Musa Dagh'. It is too grand a story that should, rather, be read by everyone and experienced to the greatest extent possible in the human spirit. The novel revolves around the life and culture of the Armenian people in a Western region of Syria in 1915. The Ottoman Empire, lead by the Young Turkish leadership have enacted the state-wide policy of genocide against the Armenians. Sensing the impending the danger, the 4,000 people of this region are forced to take shelter on the towering and biblical mountain of Musa Dagh. With a Turkish military force encircling the mountain, it is up to the Armenians to defend their way of life or die and vanish into history. I do not wish to impede on others' reviews and assert my position on whether or not they are correct, it is their opinions after all however, those who gave this book a one star rating did it out of malice and contempt over what they see as a misrepresentation of their country's history. Rather they looked at what the book was professing about and instead of placing what they thought of a well-written novel, they placed their version of the events of 1915. It is of no matter, it is up to the reader to gain an understanding from what the reviewer provides. Werfel composes a beaufiful note which instills the reader's spirt with much more than words, it gives them hope, it gives them proof that perhaps there are happy and positive stories that stem from tragedies. Werfel couldn't have done it any better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This half forgotten author wrote a masterpeace of the half forgotten fate of the first genocide of the 20th century
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read this book three times: at age 18 (in Hungarian), and at age 38 and 60 respectively, in English. No book I've ever read in my lifetime left me with such a deep understanding of how history and human tragedy are intimately intertwined. A true masterpiece! Thank you Franz Werfel for giving humanity such a legacy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago