Are emblems of deeds that are done in their clime,
Where the rage of the vulture, the love of the turtle
Now melt into sorrow, now madden to crime?
This inscription begins a novel, The Rage of the Vulture, set at the turn of the 20th century in Constantinople, during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Armenians were still nationless, then. I wonder if the “Constitution” touted during this time was much of a precursor to the secularization of Turkey under Ataturk?
It was a good read for the long plane ride. The protagonist, Captain Markham, is consumed by the need to compensate for a moral lapse (“the love of the turtle”?). His self-absorption is such that he makes choices and engages in behavior that have excruciating effects on those closest to him (making him rather unsympathetic) yet his perseverance and single-mindedness are evocative: he is a quintessential “individual” but aware of his “bound-up-ness” (for lack of a sophisticated social science term) with other people and events whose unfolding is completely out of his control. Late in the novel he finally meets the right person to whom to make his confession &emdash; someone who has known pain:
“Markham knew now what it was he had seen in the other man’s face, something there that had survived the indulgence and corruption of life. He had set it down vaguely as refinement, but he saw now that it was the knowledge of pain. Knowledge, not sympathy”(1982: 387).
After listening to Markham’s detailed account of self-preservation, the man replies:
“’But twelve years ago &emdash; that was another lifetime, my dear.’ He tucked in his chin and looked solemnly at Markham. ‘We must learn to turn over the page,’ he said. ‘We must have resilience. That is a quality I value very highly. I have it myself. There have been many things not much to my credit, you understand. Fairly numerous’” (1982:389).
The book ends with the son’s reflections on the notion of home: “It was the territory one hoped to recover again, oneself miraculously perfect still, unwounded, unmutilated, whole.”