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The Legacy of Lost Things by Aida Zilelian

The Legacy of Lost Things

by Aida Zilelian

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It's rare that a first novel appears so powerfully: usually authors are honing their styles with their first books; but The Legacy of Lost Things is a standout because it appears such refinements have already been done and what is left is a true gem that centers on not just the struggles but the dysfunctional interactions of an Armenian immigrant family living in the United States.

Aida Zilelian is a New York writer with many publications to her name; but this is her first book; and if this is any indication of her powers, it's a formidable entry into the literary world. In it she follows three generations of an Armenian family and the changes they experience when a daughter goes missing, forcing the family to examine their heritage, their interactions, and their world.

Lesser works would have turned the drama into an emotionally wrenching saga alone; but there are bigger truths going on in The Legacy of Lost Things; and so the metaphor of being lost applies on many different levels within the family structure and individual growth. The result is a powerful saga of a family's heritage and its lasting effects; so don't expect your usual 'vanished child' pop drama.

The Legacy of Lost Things moves deftly beyond the personal to embrace the social and political worlds of Armenian expats and society, and this is its crowning strength which sets it well apart from others, cementing its characters in solid descriptions, dialogue, and insights that leave readers satisfied. ( )
  DDonovan | Mar 28, 2015 |
*I received an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

I have a soft spot in my heart for novels that reflect the immigrant experience. I've traveled a lot and met a lot of interesting and displaced people, and the questions that always seem to come up in conversation involve how families change as they try and assimilate into new surroundings and a new way of life. There are often tensions there, as Zilelian reflects in the descriptions of Sunnyside's Armenian community where her characters life. There are multi-generational pressures, religious pressures, social class pressures, compounded with the pressure of understanding and embracing American life.

But this book is more than just an "immigrant" novel. It's about feeling lost, lost in place, lost in your family, and lost in the world. The theme of desertion and being alone runs throughout, first starting with the main conflict: Araxi, the oldest daughter of Tamar and Levon, runs away. The novel begins with her having deserted her family and we get a glimpse into how this desertion has affected everyone, from Tamar, who withdraws into herself, to Levon, who becomes angry and sullen, to dear young Sophie, the youngest daughter, who feels deserted by everyone in her life, including the first boy she's ever liked. But we also see Araxi's side of the coin, and how she figures out life on her own in places where she has no family, no friends, and no real connection to a home.

As the family figures out how to survive without Araxi, Zilelian provides context to the tumultuous relationship between Tamar and Levon and the violent repercussions that may have caused Araxi's sudden disappearance. We meet Faris, Tamar's starcrossed first love, and begin to understand why Levon harbors such anger towards her. As we learn how the two met, and the progression of the relationship, as well as meet their families and see how much their behavior reflects that of their parents, we begin to understand why Araxi left and we begin to see Tamar and Levon change.

That's where the novel lost me a bit. I began to see Levon soften towards his wife as he realized the grudge he had been holding against her for loving Faris was for naught. I began to see him embrace his children, like the scene in which he comforts Sophie after she realizes her boy is moving away. I began to see Tamar understand why her behavior with Faris and her behavior towards Levon had created such a drama within her family. And yet, the characters had all of these realizations and didn't change.

And I hate that.

I dislike when characters are given opportunity to grow and learn from all the history they've presented, and yet, at the end, they are still the sad schlubs with the missing daughter they were in the beginning. Sometimes, I have hope that after the words of the novel end, the characters will live on to grow and change and love. But this novel didn't give me that sense. I imagine they are still stuck on the same plastic-covered couch, not talking, and not addressing any of the problems presented in the book.

As far as writing, this is Zilelian's debut published novel, but she has been writing short stories and journalistic fiction for many years, and it shows. Her writing is pristine and she had the perfect balance of exposition and dialogue to keep me interested while also helping me to set the scene in my head.

My one criticism is the use of flashback as the start of a chapter. Multiple times, I started a chapter and could not figure out which era I was in. It often took me a few pages to figure out if I was back in Beirut or at the time of Tamar and Levon's wedding, or in the present. This could have been easily remedied by putting a date stamp at the chapter head. That would have helped me frame the characters better as I was reading, especially since many times the flashback didn't make sense to the unfolding of the story. Flashback was used primarily to reflect things going on in the present, but sometimes, those present things weren't uncovered until a few chapters later which made the flashback seem out of place and not as important.

Overall, this is a novel worth checking out if you are a fan of the immigrant experience as I am. I hope to read more from Zilelian in the future.
( )
  Shiraloo | Mar 25, 2015 |
Araxi is 18 years old when she runs away from home with her friend Cecile. Her disappearance forces her Armenian relatives to reevaluate their lives and think about the past to determine what went wrong. Levon, Araxi’s father, has to deal with his anger towards his wife and his sister. Tamar, Araxi’s mother, is depressed because of her failed marriage and a lost love. Sophie, Araxi’s younger sister, feels lonely and is convinced everybody is abandoning her. While driving across the United States, Araxi is determined to have a brand new life and never to come back home. But will she succeed in reinventing herself? Will her relatives come to terms with her decision?

The Legacy of Lost Things is an interesting story about dark family secrets and the difficulty for immigrants to fit in a new country. Like Araxi and Sophie, Aida Zilelian is a first-generation Armenian being raised in America, and she drew a lot from her experiences while writing this book. She aptly describes how most immigrants want to embrace their new country without compromising their culture. However, I found that the many characters and flashbacks in the story could be confusing. In addition, the author left some loose ends when the story concluded: for example, what happened to Cecile after she met Casey? I must say though that this novel motivated me to know more about the Armenian genocide, and I would have been curious to see what happened to Araxi’s ancestors during these dark times. Maybe this could be the basis for another book…

The Legacy of Lost Things was sent to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

To read the full review, please go to my blog (Cecile Sune - Book Obsessed). ( )
  cecile.sune | Nov 19, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0990573222, Paperback)

Aida Zilelian's breathtaking debut novel, The Legacy of Lost Things, follows three generations of a family of Armenian immigrants living in the United States, as they struggle with one another and against the Old World expectations of their community. When Araxi, the oldest daughter of the desperately unhappy Levon and Tamar, goes missing, the remaining family members are forced to confront their painful histories together, and the role each of them has played in driving Araxi away.

Through Araxi and her family, readers are given a unique look at the generational and cultural tensions that both keep families together and tear them apart. Using spare, poignant prose, Zilelian deftly explores the themes of romance, duty, infidelity and guilt. Because of the mature content, this book is intended for adult and young adult audiences.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:36 -0400)

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