Kricorian, Nancy 1960-
KRICORIAN, Nancy 1960-
PERSONAL: Born September 19, 1960, in Cambridge, MA; daughter of Edward L. (a meatcutter) and Irene (a child care provider; maiden name, Gelinas) Kricorian; married James Schamus (a screenwriter and producer), May 26, 1989; children: Nona Esther Kricorian Schamus, Djuna Mariam Kricorian Schamus. Ethnicity: "Armenian-American." Education: Dartmouth College, B.A., 1982; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1987.
CAREER: Writer. Frost Poetry Festival, member of resident faculty, 1985; Queens College/City University of New York, lecturer in English, 1987-90; Barnard College, New York, NY, instructor in English and women's studies, 1988. Visiting lecturer, Rutgers University, 1988, and Yale University, 1989 and 1991. Literary scout for European publishers, 1989—. Member, editorial board, Ararat magazine, and member, advisory board, Armenia Tree Project.
MEMBER: National Association for Armenian Studies and Research.
AWARDS, HONORS: Residency, Karolyi Foundation (Vence, France), 1986; award from Academy of American Poets, 1987; New York Foundation for the Arts fellow, 1987; finalist, River Styx Poetry Competition, 1990; resident, Yaddo Writers' Conference (Saratoga Springs, NY), 1991; Daniel Varoujan Prize, New England Poetry Club, 1995; Ararat Short Story Prize, 1997.
Zabelle (novel), Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Dreams of Bread and Fire (novel), Grove Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of poetry and fiction to literary journals, including River Styx, Ararat, Mississippi Review, and Ikon.
SIDELIGHTS: Nancy Kricorian's debut novel, Zabelle, won praise for its fictionalized account of how one woman survived the genocide of about seventy-five percent of Turkey's Armenian population while still a child during World War I. The 1998 work is based in part on the recollections of Kricorian's own grandmother, who had spent some treacherous years in Turkey during her youth. The genocide and its effect on Armenian-American families seemed an appropriate first-novel topic for Kricorian, who had penned poetry as a child, gone to Dartmouth, then earned an M.F.A. in writing from Columbia University in 1987. She became a literary scout for foreign publishers but continued to write poetry and short fiction, published in journals such as River Styx, Ararat, MississippiReview, and Ikon. Married to screenwriter and film producer James Schamus (The Ice Storm) and the mother of two, Kricorian spent six years finishing the novel.
When Kricorian was a college student in the 1980s, her grandmother began talking to her about the Armenian holocaust, in which more than a million Armenians perished at the hands of the Ottoman Empire Turks during World War I in 1915 and 1916. Areas of Armenia had been coveted or contested for centuries by Persia, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire, and the success of the Armenian merchant class had aroused hard feelings. As World War I brought an end to the long rule of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish soldiers massacred Armenian men and then forced the women and children into the Syrian desert, where many would starve to death. Kricorian's grandmother was one of the fortunate ones who survived.
The genesis of Zabelle came as Kricorian's family began writing their grandmother's eulogy when she died in 1985. The novel begins with a similar situation, and the reader learns that, unlike Kricorian's grandmother, the fictional matriarch had never openly spoken of the horrors of those days before she arrived in America. In Zabelle Chahasbanian's last days, she hides in her attic from imaginary Turks. When she passes away, her children and grandchildren begin piecing together her story: Zabelle's father was killed, and in the desert she and her siblings watched their mother, who passed on scavenged scraps to her children, starve to death. From there, Zabelle lands in an Istanbul orphanage and works as a servant for a time before an arranged marriage to an Armenian-American brings her to Massachusetts. The tragedy of Zabelle's life is further compounded by a loveless marriage and a shrewish mother-in-law. She does, however, find secret love with a coworker, though it remains an unrealized affair. Her life improves somewhat when her friendship with the colorful and spirited Arsinee is rekindled.
This latter character in particular, the author has said, was distinctly modeled after an actual woman who was a friend of Kricorian's grandmother. Kricorian also said that only a quarter or so of the book's events were drawn from real-life events in her family history. "The lasting impressions of this bittersweet love story linger in the echoes of its spare, elegant prose," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Michael Shelden, reviewing Zabelle for the Baltimore Sun, called it "an epic tale told with admirable economy and grace" and also praised Kricorian's harrowing scenes of the genocide itself. Other reviewers compared the novel to those of Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Louise Erdrich. TimeOut New York critic Eve Claxton found similarities with the work of Toni Morrison and noted that "Kricorian is able to transform oral history into her own distinctive, accomplished prose. . . . Zabelle, like Morrison's best work, is a lovely and artful piece."
Arlene Voski Avakian, who reviewed the novel for Women's Review of Books, found that the chapters relating Zabelle's march into the Syrian desert "have the immediacy of an oral history." "Told from the point of view of Zabelle as a young girl, they effectively convey the horror of the events, the confusion of the child and the detachment that was necessary for survival," Avakian continued. That reviewer found chapters in which Zabelle and two young friends must fend for themselves and scavenge food particularly engaging: "While not diminishing the horror of what they experience, the children retain some of their humor and innocence. . . . Combining a richness of detail with lively dialogue, these chapters are absorbing reading."
Kricorian's second novel, Dreams of Bread and Fire, was published in 2003 and carries on some of the themes of her first book. This time Kricorian tells the story of Ani Silver. The child of a Jewish father and Armenian mother, Ani grows up in an extended American family after her father dies. At the age of twenty-one, she travels to Paris to attend classes at the Sorbonne and to work as an au pair. Ani's adventure begins badly after her boyfriend back home dumps her, and she sinks into depression. Eventually, she begins to socialize with a distant cousin, Van Ardavanian, who grew up with her in Watertown, Massachusetts, and who leads a mysterious life. Ani then falls in love with a militant Armenian nationalist and embarks on an inner journey of questioning herself about issues such as ethnic identity, the volatile Armenian political situation, and romantic versus intellectual relationships. The novel also includes a mystery concerning the circumstances surrounding Ani's father's death.
Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer noted that Dreams of Bread and Fire has a hasty conclusion that leaves loose ends, but the critic also wrote that the author "can paint vivid tableaus." A reviewer for Kirkus Reviews found the book "a sketchy, jumpy, unfocused account" that ends up leaving the reader "with more questions than answers as to how these contents add up to any resolution of Ani's baffling heritage." However, Eleanor J. Bader, writing in the Library Journal, said that Kricorian "asks pointed questions and weaves a spellbinding web around the answers." Bader added, "By turns funny, tragic, astute, and enlightening, it is an engrossing coming-of-age tale."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Baltimore Sun, January 11, 1998, Michael Shelden, review of Zabelle.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of Dreams of Bread and Fire, p. 337.
Library Journal, March 15, 2003, Eleanor J. Bader, review of Dreams of Bread and Fire, p. 114.
Publishers Weekly, November 24, 1997, review of Zabelle, p. 53; May 26, 2003, review of Dreams of Bread and Fire, p. 50.
TimeOut New York, January 29, 1998, Eve Claxton, review of Zabelle.
Women's Review of Books, July, 1998, Arlene Voski Avakian, review of Zabelle, p. 38.*