Daughter of War is a gripping story of enduring love and loyalty set against the horrors of Turkey during World War I.
Teenagers Kevork and his betrothed Marta are the lucky ones. They have managed so far to survive the Armenian genocide in Turkey, and both are disguised as Muslims. But Marta is still in Turkey, pregnant with another man’s child. And Kevork is living as an Arab in Syria.
Kevork yearns to get back into Turkey and search for Marta, but with the war raging and the genocide still in progress, the journey will be impossibly dangerous. Meanwhile, Marta worries that even if Kevork has survived and they are reunited, will he be able to accept what she has become? And what has happened to her sister, Mariam, who was sold as a slave to the highest bidder?
Aleppo, Syria. April 1916
Kevork rubbed the last remnants of sleep from his eyes with the back of his free hand as he balanced his rucksack in the other. He walked through the covered bazaar to his own tiny stall. The sun had barely begun to peek out over the horizon, and the first call to prayer of the day had just finished. But Kevork wasn’t the first one there. Inhaling the heady aroma of cloves and cinnamon, he passed Diya al Din’s spice stand. He watched his step to make sure he didn’t trip over one of Ghalib’s chickens. Kevork was so anxious for an early start that he hadn’t even taken time to break his fast, so when he passed Radhiya’s baking pit, the aroma of freshly baked flat bread made his stomach growl.
Radhiya’s veiled head peeked out through the cloth flap of the baking pit. Droplets of sweat glistened on her upper lip. She grinned. “Here’s one for you,” she said, holding a smoking hot flatbread between two callused fingers.
Kevork drew out a coin from his pocket and placed it on the counter.
“Thank you,” he answered in Arabic as he grabbed the hot bread and held it gingerly in his hand.
From the day he had arrived in January, the other stall owners had accepted Kevork at face value. If they’d known who he really was, they’d never let on. But then again, why would they? Yes, he was still in his teens, but his skin had darkened and become wrinkled during his time in the desert. His adoptive clan had tattooed his face with the group’s distinctive small blue dot on each temple, and he had a single crosshatched line of blue around his right wrist. He had also begun to carry a small unadorned prayer mat. Five times a day he would stop what he was doing, position his prayer mat to face Mecca, and pray. Aleppo was a mostly Arab city and Kevork fit right in.
He set the leather satchel onto the dusty ground and untied the flaps covering his booth to indicate that he was open for business. He placed the satchel on his workbench and drew out the implements of his shoemaker’s trade—a small hammer, sturdy needles, waxed leather thread, a shoe form, and pieces of leather.
Mostly Kevork mended sandals. Aleppo bordered the desert after all.
When he got the chance to make a pair of sandals from scratch, Kevork’s heart soared at the novelty. So when the American had showed up a week ago asking for a new pair of boots, Kevork couldn’t believe his luck. Even more miraculous was the fact that the American wanted to travel north, stopping in Marash, Turkey, before moving on to the remote Turkish town of Harput. Kevork had excitedly volunteered to be his guide, and the American had agreed. He had paid for the boots in advance and suggested that Kevork might want to make a pair for himself as well because their trip would be arduous. Kevork hadn’t worn boots since the deportation.
Kevork unwrapped the beautiful new boots that he had made for the American. When would he pick them up? He held them to his face and breathed in the heady scent of fresh leather.
Kevork’s mind flitted back a year ago to another special pair of boots that he had made—for her.
They walked side by side to the shoemaker’s workshop at the Marash orphanage. When they got inside, Kevork closed and locked the door.
“Sit,” he said, pointing to one of the work stools.
Kevork leaned forward and clasped her hands. “I wanted to marry you.”
Marta blinked back tears and nodded.
He let go of her hands, walked over to a bundle on the shelf, and presented it to her.
“This was to be my betrothal gift to you.”
Marta looked in wonder from the bundle to Kevork’s eyes. “Then I shouldn’t open it.”
“Times are different,” he said. “You’ll need these.” And with that, he flipped open the cloth.
Marta’s eyes widened when she saw the handmade boots. “They’re beautiful,” she breathed.
“I only wish I could have given them to you under happier circumstances.”
She reached out her hand and touched one of the boots with her fingertip as if to make sure they were real. She stuck out her feet. The boots she wore were a tattered mess.
He knelt down in front of her and drew her old boots off. Then he reverently slipped on the newly made boots.
“Stand up,” he said.
Marta stood up. She peered down at her new boots with a sad smile. She wrapped her arms around Kevork’s neck. “Thank you,” she said and kissed him on his bottom lip.
Kevork held her close. “I will protect you.”
“They could separate us,” Marta said.
Kevork swallowed back his tears.
“I won’t let them,” he said fiercely.
“You may not have a choice,” she said.
He took a deep breath and let the air out slowly. “If we are parted,” he said, “I pledge that I will find a way to get back here.”
Marta looked up into his face. He was shocked by the coldness in her eyes. “If we’re separated…” She stood on her toes and kissed him on both lips. “I will come back here or die trying.”
The memory filled Kevork’s eyes with tears. Marta had been fourteen, and he was a year older. They had now been separated for a year. Was she dead or alive?
“Can this be fixed?”
Kevork was startled out of his musings. He looked up. An unveiled woman with a frown of worry in her kohl-darkened eyes held out one beaded sandal. Kevork took it from her and turned it this way and that, examining it closely. It was an Aleppo kab-kab, a leather and wooden clog favored by locals. The kab-kab had been carefully decorated with seed beads in red, blue, and yellow, and sewn in an intricate swirling pattern. He turned the clog upside down. The wood had split so badly that the clog was nearly in two pieces.
“It could be glued,” said Kevork as he ran his finger along the fault. “But it is sure to split again, the more you walk on it.”
“So it can’t be fixed?” she asked.
“Is it the beadwork you wish to save?” asked Kevork.
The woman nodded.
“Then I could make a new wooden base and sew the old upper back on.” Kevork set the kab-kab back down on the counter. “Do you have its mate?”
“Yes,” said the woman.
Then she drew a second kab-kab from the folds of her dress and handed it to Kevork. He turned it upside down and held it up close to his face, squinting. “This one is about to split too,” he said. He prodded the nail of his index finger into a hairline crack and held it up to the woman.
“Then we’d better fix both,” said the woman. “How much will that be?”
“Much cheaper than a new pair.” Kevork grinned. “I will have them ready for you in two days.”
From the corner of his eye, he saw a Turkish soldier a few booths down. Kevork willed his hand to remain steady as he finished the woman’s receipt and handed it to her. Soldiers were an increasing presence in Aleppo of late. Why was this one in the market?
Kevork smiled and nodded at the woman as she turned to go. Then he quickly busied himself by picking up one of his needles and threading it. He forced himself to look unconcerned as the soldier approached. He prayed that the soldier would walk on. But just as he was tugging the tip of the narrow waxed leather through the eye of the needle, the soldier stopped in front of his booth and slammed down a polished wooden rifle with a clatter.
Kevork’s heart was pounding so hard that he thought it would burst out of his chest. Had this soldier somehow seen through his Arab disguise? Kevork set the needle and thread down, hoping that the soldier wouldn’t notice his trembling hands.
“May I help you?” asked Kevork.
“The strap is gone,” said the soldier. “Can you make me a new one?”
Kevork looked into the soldier’s eyes and smiled. “I’m sure I can help you,” he said.
He gazed down at the rifle, trying not to speculate where it had been used. Kevork’s fingertips brushed along the polished wooden barrel until it reached the midway point, where one end of the leather strap was usually attached to a metal ring. The ring was bent but still serviceable. He ran his fingertips down to the butt of the rifle and examined the other strap holder. It was in perfect condition.
“It’s just the strap itself I need,” said the soldier. “Can you fix it now?”
“I can cut you a new strap in a matter of minutes,” said Kevork. “But I have no black leather—only brown.”
“But you can make a new strap and attach it?” asked the soldier.
“Then get to it,” said the soldier, leaning on the counter with both elbows. “I’ll wait while you do it.”
That was the last thing Kevork wanted. His heart was already pounding so hard that he thought he might faint. How long could he keep up this calm facade?
Kevork pulled out a length of sturdy brown bull hide. He measured, marked the desired length on the back of the hide with a bit of chalk, and cut out the strap with a razor-sharp knife. Then he inserted the rivets at either end of the strap.
“I’ll need the rifle to attach the strap,” said Kevork, gingerly reaching for the weapon.
“Here,” said the soldier, handing it over. “It’s not loaded.” He looked mildly interested as he watched Kevork hammer the rivets shut.
Kevork tugged at the strap to make sure it was firmly in place. He handed it back to the soldier, who grinned with delight.
“They told me you were good,” he said. “And they were right.” The soldier reached into his pocket and drew out some coins. He dropped them on the counter and left.
Kevork was dizzy with relief as he watched the soldier exit the bazaar. Then he looked down at the soldier’s payment. Amidst the coins was a simple brass wedding ring. It was the kind that his mother had worn. Had the soldier taken it from an Armenian corpse?
Kevork’s hands trembled as he packed up his stall for the night. Of all the shoemakers in Aleppo, why had he been chosen? Maybe it was just a coincidence. But if the soldier knew, Kevork was no longer safe.
But was anywhere safe when you were Armenian?
Reviews:Kristen Anderson on School Library Journal wrote:
This is a powerful, often harrowing novel that will appeal to those who appreciate books about people surviving in spite of grave injustices.
Elizabeth Creith on Children’s Book News wrote:
“From the first page I was hooked into this story of Kevork and Marta, two young lovers separated by the deportations inflicted on ethnic Armenians by the Turks…..Skrypuch manages to depict the horror of the genocide without becomeing trite or unnecessarily graphic. While deploring the evil done, and the callousness of human beings to one another, she avoids labelling groups as iether good or bad.
Daughter of War is a good read, as well as a compelling look at an event too little known in the western world.”
Abby the Librarian wrote:
“brutally honest and tells the often untold story of a different genocide.”
ALAN review wrote:
“…this gripping novel tells the story of suffering and the atrocities of war from two very different perspectives….The novel forces readers to think about the war from a new perspective, can be easily connected to ideas about history, and may be used to discuss context in current political events.
Mair Luscombe on VOYA wrote:
Daughter of War is a book about an overlooked subject that I wouldn’t exactly think to read about, but I am glad I did. The novel is fascinating and well written. The character dynamic was realistic. …I commend Skrypuch for this great novel. I would personally recommend this book to any teen looking for a good read.
“The carefully structured narrative … yield[s] a sense of the epic; readers will feel that they have been on Kevork’s journey with him, across the deserts and through the concentration camps in his quest to find Marta. The smells of the bazaars and graphic images from death marches and concentration camps root the story in the particulars of time and place.”
Gregory Bryan on CM wrote:
“Daughter of War is a powerful and moving read…”
Jean Mills on Quill & Quire wrote:
“At its core, this is a love story. But it’s also a quest, told from the perspective of several main characters. In 1915, the new government of Turkey started its systematic destruction of the Armenian poeple. Separated by cultures and distance, two young betrothed Armenians, Kevork and Marta, dream of being reunited. Their story plays out against a backdrop of political unrest, providing dramatic tension that doesn’t let up until the very end.”
Heather Wright on Guelph Mercury wrote:
“Told from multiple points of view, this novel is really two stories. One is the story of the genocide. The other is the story of two young people battling frightening conditions to reunite and build a life together.
Marta’s and Kevork’s compelling stories drive the reader through the novel. They are strong, evolving protagonists and you care about them.”
Helen Norrie on Winnipeg Free Press wrote:
“…a powerful sequel to her 2003 novel, Nobody’s Child…”
“The award-winning Skrypuch bases her story on first-hand accounts of the Armenian genocide. While sections of this novel are disturbing, they also chronicle acts of kindness and compassion and an enduring love story between the two young people.”
Claire Rosser on KLIATT wrote:
“This is an exciting story…[with]…thrilling action in a certainly exotic setting. readers of Armenian descent will find this especially relevant to their own cultural understanding, but any readers who like historical fiction filled with danger, tragedy, and survival will like this novel.”
Linda Aksomitis on Resource Links wrote:
“Daughter of War is a recommended purchase for all libraries. Teachers will find it useful in history classes studying the Middle East, as well as discussions of genocide. The fast pace and rich descriptions will appeal to both boys and girls, as well as adults.”
Readers’ Rants wrote:
“This is a story filled with both excruciating historical detail and no-holds-barred emotion–at times disturbing, but it’s a story that needs to be told, with an ultimately uplifting ending.”
Internet Bookwatch wrote:
“Daughter of War is a deftly written historical fiction novel, sure to enthrall readers with a story set amid events that truly happened. A top pick”
Betsy Fraser on VOYA wrote:
This novel is carefully structured, giving a view of a piece of history that is not well known or appreciated. The characters are involving and well-rounded, providing readers a chance to find out about the history without being overwhelmed by it. The audience will be rooting for Marta to find her sister and Kevork. The Armenian massacre is a subject that has appeared in Skrypuch’s work before, and Kevork was also seen in Skrypuch’s novel Nobody’s Child (Dundurn, 2004). This book will appeal to historical fiction fans as well as readers who enjoy a longer, more romantic story.
Kate Murray on Canadian Bookseller wrote:
“remarkable and powerful storytelling…”