I stack up books from September to June and place several on the Sunroom Desk virtual bookshelf during summer. This year, the stack from Glendale Public Library events with Armenian experience as a theme stretches back two years. I got Aris Janigian’s book This Angelic Land at his Glendale Public Library appearance back in 2012, shortly after the book’s publication marking the twentieth anniversary of the LA Riots. Unfortunately, events of 2014 in Syria and Iraq provide Armenians more context with which to consider this book’s exploration of the tenuousness of personal and cultural survival in a violent, unstable environment.
The point of view in the book is a bit confusing, changing from the main character out and about in Hollywood during the riots, to the shadow narrator who doesn’t appear on the scene until after the riots are over. They are brothers, Armenian immigrants who fled Beirut with their family during the civil war and settled in Los Angeles.
Except for the backdrop of the riots, there is little action as the book focuses on long conversations and the protagonist’s introspection. He struggles to absorb and interpret the perspectives of immigrant intellectuals ranging from Kurdish artists to mid-Western Jewish academics. While he is influenced mainly by non-Armenians, he vividly remembers his strong grandmother who refused to leave Lebanon when her family emigrated to Los Angeles.
The narrator – an Armenian-American documentary film maker focusing on demolition of historic buildings – makes no mention of the crumbling ruins of ancient Armenian churches in Turkey. He, and his brother Adam, both confront the threat of cultural destruction indirectly. The post-riot reckoning provides no answers.
The book’s many extended conversations about Los Angeles, the immigrant experience, cultural survival and violent turmoil are as thought-provoking in 2014 as they were in 1992.