Tuesday, April 26, 2016

#MMBBR #Showcase The Hundred-Year Walk by Dawn Anahid MacKeen @dawnmackeen

An epic tale of one man’s courage in the face of genocide and his granddaughter’s quest to tell his story

In the heart of the Ottoman Empire as World War I rages, Stepan Miskjian’s world becomes undone. He is separated from his family as they are swept up in the government’s mass deportation of Armenians into internment camps. Gradually realizing the unthinkable—that they are all being driven to their deaths—he fights, through starvation and thirst, not to lose hope. Just before killing squads slaughter his caravan during a forced desert march, Stepan manages to escape, making a perilous six-day trek to the Euphrates River carrying nothing more than two cups of water and one gold coin. In his desperate bid for survival, Stepan dons disguises, outmaneuvers gendarmes, and, when he least expects it, encounters the miraculous kindness of strangers.

The Hundred-Year Walk alternates between Stepan’s saga and another journey that takes place a century later, after his family discovers his long-lost journals. Reading this rare firsthand account, his granddaughter Dawn MacKeen finds herself first drawn into the colorful bazaars before the war and then into the horrors Stepan later endured. Inspired to retrace his steps, she sets out alone to Turkey and Syria, shadowing her resourceful, resilient grandfather across a landscape still rife with tension. With his journals guiding her, she grows ever closer to the man she barely knew as a child. Their shared story is a testament to family, to home, and to the power of the human spirit to transcend the barriers of religion, ethnicity, and even time itself.

Dawn Anahid MacKeenDawn Anahid MacKeen is an award-winning journalist who spent nearly a decade on her grandfather's story. Previously, she covered health and social issues for Salon, SmartMoney, and Newsday, where her investigative series on assisted living facilities' poor care helped prompt legislative reform. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Elle, the Sunday Times Magazine (London), the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She lives in Southern California with her husband Steve.

Mrs. Mommy Booknerd interview with Dawn Anahid MacKeen, author of The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey

Q.  What inspires your writing?
A. Real life. I’ve always believed in the old adage,Truth is stranger than fiction.I’m constantly amazed at all the bizarre, incredible, and, of course, sad events that transpire every day. Plus, I don’t have the kind of imagination needed to write fiction. I prefer to document, or reconstruct, what happens around us.

Q.  What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
A. Working in my pajamas on some days. Okay, not just that. I love telling other people’s stories. It helps me get to know people I would never otherwise encounter in my day-to-day life. Also, through the process of putting words to the page, I can work through almost any emotion. Writing about my grandfather’s survival of the Armenian genocide has been extremely cathartic. It’s a gift to be able to do this full-time, and I’m thankful every day.

Q.  What is the toughest part of being a writer?
A. Spending all that time alone. When I was working for a newspaper or magazine, I interviewed people all day. But this book was different. I was writing about people long gone. That meant spending countless hours in the stacks at libraries alone, or poring over old newspapers and books, and listening to the words of the dead. Thankfully, despite everything that happened to my grandfather, he was a very inspirational man; his faith in humanity, and remembrance of all the kind acts from strangers who helped him survive, lifted me up. He was a great man to spend time with over this past decade.

Q.  If you could not be writer, what would you do/be?
A. Maybe a psychologist. Sitting down and interviewing people can be similar to a therapy session. I love listening to people talk about their lives.

Q.  What would the story of your life be entitled?
A. Wow, that’s a tough one to answer since it hasn’t been finished being written yet.

Q.  What is your favorite book of all time?
A. Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky

Q.  Which book would you love to take a weekend vacation inside of?
A. Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins, but only as a fly on the wall.

Q.  What is your favorite season and why?
A. Spring. I love how everything dead comes to life again. It makes me so happy to feel that renewal, which I think mirrors the human spirit.

Q.  What inspired your book cover?
A. The black tree is a very stark and haunting image: one half of the tree is full, symbolizing  the Armenians’ life before the genocide, and the other side is bare, with the leaves turning into birds taking flight. The name of the old Armenian quarter in my grandfather’s hometown was called “Under the Black Tree, and therefore the cover’s inspiration. The image is a metaphor for the loss of the more than million lives, but also the community’s resilience in the aftermath.

Q.  Tell me something interesting that happened while on a book tour or while promoting your book.
A. My book is about my mother’s father, Stepan Miskjian. So I brought my 87-year-old mother Anahid on tour with me. After presenting my book, my mother has been saying a few words about how the genocide affected her father. At my reading in Berkeley, people were so moved by her talk, they asked her to sign my book after me. It made me so happy since having her father’s story told has been her life’s dream.

Q.  Are you working on something new?
A. There are a bunch of essays that I’m working on right now. But, at the moment, all I’m thinking about is the vacation I’ll take once my tour concludes! After ten years of hard work researching and writing this book, I’m looking forward to it.

Q.  Anything you want to say to followers of this blog or those that are just stopping by?
A. Thank you so much for your support. I put my heart into this book. I hope that through my grandfather’s inspiring story, readers can learn about this forgotten chapter of history— and make sure that it never happens again. If anyone wants to learn more about my book, please visit dawnmackeen.com

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