Like Water on Stone

Like Water on Stone

by Dana Walrath


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"Evocative and hopeful," says Newbery Honor-Winner Rita Williams-Garcia of this intense survival story set during the Armenian genocide of 1915. 

It is 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is crumbling into violence.
     Beyond Anatolia, in the Armenian Highlands, Shahen Donabedian dreams of going to New York. Sosi, his twin sister, never wants to leave her home, especially now that she is in love. At first, only Papa, who counts Turks and Kurds among his closest friends, stands in Shahen's way. But when the Ottoman pashas set in motion their plans to eliminate all Armenians, neither twin has a choice.
     After a horrifying attack leaves them orphaned, they flee into the mountains, carrying their little sister, Mariam. But the children are not alone. An eagle watches over them as they run at night and hide each day, making their way across mountain ridges and rivers red with blood.     

A YALSA Best Fiction Nomination
A Notable Books for a Global Society Award Winner    
A CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book of the Year
A Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year with Outstanding Merit

“I have walked through the remnants of the Armenian civilization in Palu and Chunkush, I have stood on the banks of the Euphrates. And still I was unprepared for how deeply moved I would be by Dana Walrath’s poignant, unflinching evocation of the Armenian Genocide. Her beautiful poetry and deft storytelling stayed with me long after I had finished this powerful novel in verse.” —Chris Bohjalian, author of The Sandcastle Girls and Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

“A heartbreaking tale of familial love, blind trust, and the crushing of innocence. A fine and haunting work.” —Karen Hesse, Newbery Medal–winning author of Out of the Dust
“This eloquent verse novel brings one of history’s great tragedies to life.” —Margarita Engle, Newbery Honor–winning author of The Surrender Tree

*"This beautiful, yet at times brutally vivid, historical verse novel will bring this horrifying, tragic period to life for astute, mature readers." —School Library Journal, Starred

"A powerful tale balancing the graphic reality of genocide with a shining spirit of hope and bravery in young refugees coming to terms with their world."—Booklist
“The emotional impact these events had on individuals will certainly resonate.”—Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385743983
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 11/10/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 226,752
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Dana Walrath, writer, poet, artist, Fulbright Scholar, and second generation Armenian, is committed to the movement for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. She believes an honest reckoning of history, apology and forgiveness is essential for healing and will help bring about peace in the future. She lives in Vermont.

Read an Excerpt

Three young ones,
one black pot,
a single quill,
and a tuft of red wool are enough to start a new life in a new land.
I know this is true because I saw it.

We track our quills when they fall.
With eagle eyes we can see from the sky who picks one up from the ground,
or rescues it from the crook of a bent branch,
the quill's mottled color blending in with the peeling bark.

It was the girl who picked up my quill.
She and her mother worked side by side,
plucking frothy white beetle bodies from leaf and stalk.
They crushed them between fingertips and used this insect blood to turn their carpet fibers the richest red.

When my feather dropped,
the girl, the older one, Sosi,
almost full grown,
her body budding,
stirred from her work.
The little one, Mariam,
napped on a carpet beside her.

Sosi, named for plane trees that stand tall on this land.
Her short, quick inhale as she saw it tugged the air around me.
She wiped her red-tipped fingers on her apron before reaching up.
"Look, Mama, a new mizrap for Papa."
A nine-beat song pulsed through my wings.
A musician?
What luck!

If my quill could pull laments from the strings of an oud,
I thought, then my heart might heal.
"That quill is for your brother,"
the mother said.
"It's time that Shahen learned to play."
A young musician?
More luck.

Far beyond this beetled field,
where river cut through mountain,
a curly-headed, big-eyed boy shivered when she spoke.
Sons hear as eagles see.

Fast green water flowed along the distant bank.
An arc of giant stones rose from the riverbed,
bending the current's forward force.
Water seeped back behind these stones,
forming a still pool for Shahen,
his face reflected in the water,
so delicate,
like Sosi's.

His thumb and fingers curled round a flat, smooth stone.
He bent his hand tight toward his arm.
One fierce flick of his wrist sent the stone to water.
It skipped nine times like the beat of a song.

Ripples spread through the top of the pool,
then sank into its surface.
Then, to no one,
to the air,
perhaps to me,
Shahen said,
"No one plays oud in America."
My musician, what luck!

Come on, lucky stone.
Give me seven.
Not nine, not eight.
One for each of them,
none for me.

Anahid, Sosi, Mariam,


Eight? It can't be eight.
Not the eight arches of the Palu bridge.
I can't be stuck here with a fool for a father.
In a land ruled by Muslims,
priests just baaaah like sheep.
My fate isn't here, sitting in church,
learning of what was, not of what could be.
My fate isn't here, grinding wheat into flour.
That's enough for my brothers,
big dolts with no dreams.
Come on, stone. You're the lucky one.

Anahid, Sosi, Mariam,


Pah! Stupid eight.
Stupid, like Papa,
who keeps his head in song.
If he stopped playing the oud,
if he looked instead of listened,
if he stopped thinking we are all the same,
that Christians, like us, could ever be free deep inside an empire ruled by Muslim Ottoman Turks,
then he would know.
From the Balkans to the Caucasus and down both sides of Arabia, they rule.
But other empires close them in:
Austrian, Russian,
Persian, and British meet them at each edge.

They have no place for us,
not in their hearts.
Papa should know this.
He was alive in 1895,
when Sultan Hamid first gave the orders to kill us,
not me.
He knows we pay double taxes and cannot vote.

He knows Turks call us gavour, infidel.
Now it will be even worse.
Armenian families will shun us because Anahid's groom is a Kurd.
What sort of Armenian father blesses a love match with a Muslim for his first-born girl?
So what if she didn't have to convert?
It's Kurdish beys who take the tithe.

If he opened his eyes,
if he stopped thinking of the world as a song,
with disparate parts always blending,
he would know that my keri, my uncle, is right.
All the way from New York,
Mama's brother knows the truth.
We should marry our own.

If I go to New York to live with my keri,
my face will be bristled at last,
no longer the little one,
the little brother,
twin to a girl,
with a fool for a father.

There I'll grow tall.
The bristles will come.
I'll live in a tower that touches the sky.

Come on, pink stone,
perfect, smooth, and flat.
Cut me out.
Make it seven.

Stone spins and cuts the surface.

Papa, big spray;
Mama, less;
Kevorg, closer;
Misak, smaller;
Anahid, Sosi, Mariam.

Stone sinks into water.

I will do it with care.
As the proverb says:
Measure seven times.
Cut once.
That's how I will do it.

I'm going to America.

Feet up.
Feet down.
Heels hit house.
Feet up.
Feet down.
come home.

Time to play the bird game.
Time to play the bird game.
Feet up.
Feet down.
I sit.
I wait.
Feet up.
Feet down.
He's here!

Shahen's on the ground,
his arms spread wide.

"Time to play the bird game?"
"Yes," he tells me.
He always says yes.

My wings pull back.
Meg, yergoo, yerek,
one, two, three,
flap, flap, flap.
I fly.
My heart goes first,
down down down from the roof into Shahen's arms.
He catches me.
He holds me high.
He spins me round and round like the mill wheel.
I fly above.
I am his little dove.

Fly, little bird.
Fly over hills.
Fly straight through the straits to the sea.

She giggles. We spin.
Her curls catch the wind.
My fingertips press to her ribs,
to help me remember her laugh and the smell of the mint by the stream and Sosi, on tiptoes,
stringing the loom with strong cotton cords,
tying tight knots at its base,
Mama rolling rice into grape leaves,
packing them snug into the black pot to simmer,
my father and brothers dusted with flour,
their faces white like clowns when the mill work is done.

From New York,
I will be able to see across oceans,
past pashas in Topkapi Palace and drum-capped Ottoman soldiers,
their Muslim guns pointed toward our land,
through a maze of Turks and Kurds,
with Anahid among them,
to my family here in Palu.

I land Mariam back on the roof's edge.
Her tiny feet kick.
She leans out again,
leading with her breastbone.

Meg, yergoo, yerek.

Built low to the ground,
this roof was safe,
even for those without wings.
The mill house roofs ran up the slope like stepping-stones,
each roof set for its own tasks:
carpet making, laundry,
cooking, feasting, music.
Stone steps set tight into outside walls led up to all the rooftops.

That night, on the roof,
the father used my quill to pull sweet sounds from the strings of his oud,
its bulging belly nestled between his arms,
so like a young human mother making room for a coming child.
Eggs in nests are far more simple.

His soaring sound pulled me from the sky,
like gravity must for those who can't fly.
I lighted on a branch near their roof.
The father stopped playing.
Beside him, Shahen lay on his back,
staring past me and the treetops.
The father reached down.
He touched Shahen's forehead with my quill and said,
"This fine new mizrap, this gift from an eagle,
the noblest of birds, is a sign, Shahen.
It's time for me to teach you."
With the pluck of a young one aching to leave the nest the imp rolled to his side and replied,
"No one plays oud in America, Papa."
"A good Armenian carries the music of home close to his heart, wherever he is, son."
"You mean I'm going?"
I tipped my head under mantle of wing lest they hear me whistle.

We eagles sing no soothing songs.
Our throats can only whistle.
Instead, we hunt them down,
take them from others.
I craved soothing song that summer.
I had lost my mate and hatchlings and war was in the air.

Hate makes jagged spikes of light,
and blame can crack the sky.
As pierced with wounds from sharp white teeth,
the Ottoman air had ruptured.
Massacres would come again as the drum-capped rulers spread their hate.

I confess. I had my own hate for the drum caps that summer.
I kept it like an egg in a nest,
warming it,
feeding it once it hatched,
so it grew ever stronger,
the drum caps' hate like food for mine.

Before the time of humans,
we eagles had no need for hate.
We do not feign to own the land.
We keep it safe around our nests from hawk and falcon so that our young can fledge.
And to hunt is to fight,
is to kill, I know.
But its purpose is pure.
How else could we feed our young?

That long-gone night,
I stopped my distant flights across this land of seas.
Instead, each day,
I flew over their mill,
built into a small stream that fed the eastern branch of the mighty Euphrates River,
hoping for snatches of music.

Mama teaches me how to bargain for fabrics.
First, fingertips feel texture and weight,
face and voice silent.
Never take first price.
See what the Turks have to offer,
but buy Armenian cloth if you can.
Never show which one you love.
Go to see each merchant's wares.
Compare and think and breathe in spices:
hot bite of cayenne,
fenugreek for basturma,
warm, strong taste of earthy cumin,
deep red paprika to make a paste,
crisp allspice for manti stuffing,
mahlap's bitter almond nip.

We buy a bolt of woven wool tight with pattern and warmth.
Mama says the silks I love will wait till I'm a wife.

Silks instead of Mama,
silks instead of home.

I search for Vahan in the market,
beside his clocks and chimes.
Arkalian clocks keep time for miles.
Beirut, Konya, Van.
Baron Bedros, Vahan's father,
works the tiny tools and gears inside the clocks' bellies.

Vahan paints their faces.
His long-lashed eyes meet mine.
Mama sees and pulls me from him,
back to the Turk to pay,
pinching my hand,
as her voice stays honey sweet.
"Sosi jan, a woman never looks."

Fatima Bey Injeli comes into the stall behind us.
"Special price for you today,
gavour, infidel?
As though you need it,
already with all the best land."
Mama places the bolt between them.
Her left hip juts out like a ledge.
She stares straight ahead, lips sealed.
The Turk from the shop says to Fatima,
"The gavour are clever with their money,"
as he drops a coin into Mama's open palm.
"Tesekkur ederim." Mama thanks him,
nose up, lips drawn tight like a hard, wrinkled pit.
"I can buy my cloth from others if you like."
The Turk bows his bald head low,
the fringe of hair around his crown like an upside-down, bristle-black smile.
"No, madame. You must come again with your lovely daughter.
The bolt and the price pleased us both."
"Good day, then," Mama says,
pulling me from the stall,
past the other vendors,
past the crowd,
over the bridge,
squeezing my hand,
"The bee gets honey from the same flower where the snake sucks her poison."

She lets go only when we reach our orchard spread along the river's edge.
"I said nothing to that snake only because your father holds her husband, Mustafa, dear.
As if I didn't have enough to worry me with you making eyes at clockmakers' sons before fathers have even spoken?
And Shahen, always wet from the river.
He played with Turkish boys again, you know.
The pair of you will be my end.
And the nerve of that vendor,
insulting us as we give him good money!
Sosi, look around you.
This is Armenia.
Fat Turks from Constantinople rule for miles and miles,
making Muslim villagers brazen.
Kurds and Turks may live here too,
but these are our lands.
Your father planted these very vines with cuttings from my father's arbors when he was leaving boyhood,
the age of you and Shahen now.
His grandfather's grandfather planted the olives,
his father,
the apricots.
Nothing came free.
Not the millstones.
Not the earth.
Not the sheep.
Not the wheat.
Generations of sweat.
Don't you ever forget."

Grapevines heavy with fruit bend over straight wood frames.
Silver olive leaves shimmer behind them.
Apricots blush in the sun.

When she's near me,
Sosi keeps her head bent to try to spare me shame.
But I know she's taller now.
Everyone knows.

Kevorg used to call us twin persimmon pits,
Jori and Joreni,
like the two smooth brown seeds he pulled one day from the soft, sweet flesh of a yellow-orange fruit.
Now he's silent.

I'll catch up this fall.
Before the persimmons ripen again.

At the river,
I'm the smallest.
But water evens us out.
I swim the currents like a fish,
faster than the fastest Turk,
gliding in the waves.
I always win.

My stones skip far beyond the others.
Bounce, bounce,
ba, ba, ba,
like the beat of a hand on a drum.

But best is when I float.
My weightless body stretches from one rocky bank all the way to the other.

I circled above,
watching Shahen swim in the river with the young drum caps.

Farther up the river,
a small, fat frog, at water's edge,
caught bugs with his tongue.
A heron soon ate him.
I swooped down and grabbed a fish.
That's when I saw him,
that boy, the drum cap with the toothy grin.

He was with the man with the red drum cap and the stiff white beard trimmed and combed and polished so it spread out and down,
like the feathers of a tail.
That man shot my mate.

The instant the bullet hit,
she was gone.
Her flight stopped.
Wings limp, she fell.

The man clapped the boy on the shoulders where wings would have sprouted were he a bird.
They laughed.
They watched her fall,
as did I, from our nest,
my talons balled into fists so as not to harm the chicks.

For forty days,
my mate had stayed there on the nest till this brood had hatched,
three eggs this time, with me bringing all the food and fresh pine sprigs.

One by one,
the young emerged,
in the order they were laid,
their egg tooth breaking through the shell,
their eyes partway closed,
no true feathers,
just gray-white down,
and open mouths,
open shut,
open shut.

She would never leave them,
in those early days.
It takes two full weeks for eaglets to hold their heads up for feeding.
Open mouths,
open shut,
open shut.

She was bigger, swifter,
as are all females of our kind.
But I was good for my size.
That year I brought so much food no chick would need to eat the other,
so ample were my hunts.
Young rabbit,
marmot, skunk,
which she shredded and fed into their open mouths,
open shut,
open shut.

But eagles suffer when they cannot fly.
As the young grew strong and their wings expanded,
and black-tipped feathers replaced their down,
the young ones'
appetites peaked.
It was time for her to fly again.
I pushed her from the nest as I had done before.

She flew straight into a bullet.

The man and boy ran across the earth to where she fell,
the man's red hat bobbing with each step.

They did not slash her gut to find sustaining blood and muscle.
Instead they plucked her,
starting with her wings,
her glorious wings,
the father on one side,
the son on the other.

Each spread the fingers of one hand across her skin to hold it taut and took feathers with the other,
one at a time;
taking hold they snapped their wrists in one direction along the axis of its anchor and then
to the opposite side in an arc
to pull it free.

Feather by feather,
they plucked her naked,
the father's red hat bobbing up and down as he worked, laughing with his son, rousing hate inside me for all the drum-capped ones,
the Turks.

They didn't eat her,
as a hunter would.
They laughed as she fell to the ground.

They took her quills,
pulled them from her and left her naked for the vultures,
a thing we eagles almost never touch.

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