The Daydreaming Boy
“How did I become this sort of man?” Vahé Tcheubjian asks himself. Vahé is, by his own admission, a debauched and pathetic coward and a constant liar, stuck in a loveless marriage and pawing at servant girls. Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s second novel The Daydreaming Boy (NY: Riverhead, 2004) attempts to tell us just how Vahé became the man he is. It’s 1963 and Vahé estimates he is about forty-six years old. His family, about whom he remembers nothing concrete, disappeared into the Armenian Holocaust that overtook the final days of the Ottoman Empire. As a result, he was raised in an orphanage euphemistically named the Bird’s Nest but which operated on cruelty, scarcity, and deprivation – somewhere between a prison and a concentration camp. Now a resident of Beirut (just as their civil war is getting under way), Vahé spends his days daydreaming, reliving the past, and visiting the zoo, where he sits in front of the chimpanzee enclosure and intensely watches the behavior of the caged beasts with whom he clearly identifies.
In her first novel Three Apples Fell from Heaven, Marcom spread her attention across more than a dozen characters as the Armenian Holocaust unfolded circa 1917. In this, her followup novel about the aftereffects of the Armenian Holocaust on the next generation, Marcom has chosen to focus on a single survivor of the orphanage system that arose to handle all of the abandoned children (Vahé remembers almost nothing about life prior to the Bird’s Nest). There, the mairigs (the “mothers”) nurtured a vicious, dog-eat-dog society in which only the strong would survive. But to be strong, as Vahé ultimately learns, requires victims. And this is the real core of Marcom’s book: watching Vahé and others Armenian orphans become torturers just like those who murdered their parents. The primary object of Vahé’s guilt is Vosto, a young boy who was the most abused victim within the Bird’s Nest. Even decades after leaving The Bird’s Nest, Vahé despises Vosto for allowing himself to be his victim. Vosto “was all of us, the damned exiled race in its puny and starved and pathetic scabbed body. How we longed to kill him.” Several times in the novel, Vahé runs into the adult Vosto, who now shines shoes on the street for a living, and each time Vahé, Judas-like, denies recognizing him.
As in Three Apples, The Daydreaming Boy contains a single photograph, a blurry image of a large group of boys, among which Vahé might be one.