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Orhan's Inheritance
by Aline Ohanesian

Published: 2015-04-07
Hardcover : 352 pages
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17 clubs reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 4 of 4 members
They found him inside one of seventeen cauldrons in the courtyard, steeping in an indigo dye two shades darker than the summer sky. His arms and chin were propped over the copper edge, but the rest of Kemal Türkoglu, age ninety-three, had turned a pretty pale blue.

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They found him inside one of seventeen cauldrons in the courtyard, steeping in an indigo dye two shades darker than the summer sky. His arms and chin were propped over the copper edge, but the rest of Kemal Türkoglu, age ninety-three, had turned a pretty pale blue.

When Orhan’s brilliant and eccentric grandfather, who built a dynasty out of making kilim rugs, is found dead in a vat of dye, Orhan inherits the decades-old business. But his grandfather’s will raises more questions than it answers. Kemal has left the family estate to a stranger thousands of miles away, an aging woman in a retirement home in Los Angeles. Her existence and secrecy about her past only deepen the mystery of why Orhan’s grandfather would have left their home to this woman rather than to his own family.

Intent on righting this injustice, Orhan boards a plane to Los Angeles. There, over many meetings, he will unearth the story that eighty-seven-year-old Seda so closely guards--the story that, if told, has the power to undo the legacy upon which Orhan’s family is built, the story that could unravel Orhan’s own future.

Moving between the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the 1990s, Orhan's Inheritance is a story of passionate love, unspeakable horrors, incredible resilience, and the hidden stories that haunt a family.

“A remarkable debut from an important new voice . . . Beautiful and terrible and, finally, indelible.” —Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Queen of America

“To take the tumultuous history of Turks and Armenians in the early part of the past century, to tell the stories of families and lovers from the small everyday moments of life to the terrible journeys of death, to make a novel so engrossing and keep us awake--that is an accomplishment, and Aline Ohanesian’s first novel is such a wonderful accomplishment.” —Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon

“From its first startling image, Orhan’s Inheritance will seep under your skin and leave an indelible mark upon your heart. What lucky readers we are to inherit Aline Ohanesian’s gorgeous work.” —Gayle Brandeis, author of Delta Girls

“Readers who were moved by the work of Carol Edgarian, Mark Mustian, and Nancy Kricorian will appreciate the historical authenticity and passion that Aline Ohanesian brings to this story of the Armenian Genocide. Orhan’s Inheritance is heartfelt and sincere.”  —Chris Bohjalian, author of The Sandcastle Girls

“A harrowing tale of unimaginable sacrifice . . . A novel that delves into the darkest corners of human history and emerges with a tenuous sense of hope.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of April 2015: “Places and things stay with us, and sometimes we stay with them.” Remembering the past can be a tricky business and for those who experienced dark times in history the memories they may most want to forget are the very ones that future generations insist that they share. Orhan’s Inheritance begins in a small village in Turkey, with the death of a patriarch, Kemal, who bequeaths the family home to a woman his heirs have never heard of. Kemal’s grandson, Orhan, finds her across the world in a home for elderly Armenians and their meeting leads to a long buried account of two people deeply in love, torn apart by war and terrible sacrifice. Aline Ohanesian’s debut novel is rich in emotion and its roots run deep and wide, tapping into a largely neglected time in Turkish history, spanning decades, and honoring the resilience of the human spirit. --Seira Wilson


They found him inside one of the seventeen cauldrons in the courtyard, steeping in an indigo dye two shades darker than the summer sky. His arms and chin were propped over the copper edge, but the rest of Kemal Turkoglu, age eighty-nine, had turned a pretty pale blue. Orhan was told the old men of the village stood in front of the soaking corpse, fingering their worry beads, while their sons waited, holding dice from abandoned backgammon games. Modesty forbade any female spectators, but within hours the news spread from one kitchen and vendor’s stall to the next. Orhan’s grandfather, his dede, had immersed his body, naked except for his britches, into a vat of fabric dye outside their family home.

Orhan sinks into the back seat of the private car, a luxury he talked himself into when the dread of a seven-hour bus ride back to the village started to overwhelm his grief. He wanted to mourn in private, away from the chickens, the elderly, the traveling merchants, or worse yet, the odd acquaintance that could normally be found on a bus ride to Anatolia, the interior of Turkey. He told himself, he could afford a little luxury now, but the car showed up an hour late, sporting a broken air conditioner and a driver reeking of cheap cologne and sweat. Orhan lights a cigarette and shuts his eyes against the sting of the man’s body odor.

“Going to visit your family?” the driver asks.

“Yes,” answers Orhan.

“That’s nice. So many young people leave their villages and never come back,” he says.

The truth is it’s been three years since his last visit. Had Dede had the good sense to move out of that god-forsaken place, there would be no reason to go back. The car veers off the highway, making its way along a recently paved road toward the city of Sivas, on whose outskirts Karod village is located. The driver slows down, and opens a window, letting the terroir-laden scent of soil waft into the car’s cavity. Unlike Istanbul, whose majesty is reflected in the Bosporus, Central Anatolia is the quintessential other Turkey, in which allusions of majesty or progress are much harder to come by. Here shepherds follow the bleating of longhaired goats, and squat village women carry bundles of kindling on their backs. Time and progress are two long-lost relatives who send an occasional letter. The ancient roads of Sivas province, once a part of the famed Silk Road, have seen the stomping of Assyrian, Persian, Greek and Roman feet. Dry-rotted timber, blocks of concrete and sheets of corrugated tin stand feebly upon ancient Byzantine stone structures whose architectural complexity suggests a more glorious past. Layer upon layer of earth and civilization washed downstream by the muddy waters of the Kizil Irmak, the Red River, produces a kind of sedimentary aesthetic. Orhan thinks of the unbearable heat of Anatolian summers acting as an adhesive for all these different layers.

“You have siblings?” the driver asks.

“No,” answers Orhan.

“Just your parents then?” he asks, glancing at Orhan through the rear view mirror.

“Father, grandfather, and an aunt,” he says, looking out at the barren landscape. How is it that even without a single structure weighing down on it, the land is heavy, the atmosphere so pressed it makes it hard to breathe. It was these very fields, burdened with a history he could not name that first inspired him to pick up Dede’s Leica. Somewhere around age fifteen, Orhan discovered that if he blurred the image in the lens enough, Karod would no longer threaten to crush him. Through the lens, the slopes and valleys of his childhood started to resemble abstract paintings, broad strokes of yellow and green, hidden patches of lavender, set against an ever-changing sky of blue and orange. It was only later that he realized he was imposing meaning upon the world, by the way he chose to capture it. Those first photographs were like butterflies suspended in glass panes.

“I grew up near Sivas,” the driver continues. “What’s your family name? Maybe I know it.”

There is no escaping this constant need for placing one another in Turkey. It’s one of the few things Orhan loved about living in Germany: the anonymity. “Turkoglu,” he says finally.

The driver’s expression, framed in the rearview mirror, changes. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he says. “Kemal Bey was an extraordinary man. Is it true he fought at Ctesiphon?”

Orhan nods, taking another drag from his cigarette.

“They don’t make them like that anymore. That generation was full of real men. They fought against all of Europe and Russia, established a Republic and founded entire industries. It’s something, huh?”

“Yes,” agrees Orhan. “It’s something.”

“The paper says he immersed himself in dye for medicinal purposes,” the driver says.

It’s not the first time Orhan has heard this preposterous theory. It’s a story crafted, no doubt, by his cunning little aunt. Though Dede had been a well-respected World War One hero-turned-businessman, he was also an eccentric man, living in a place where eccentricities needed to be explained away or covered up.

In villages like Karod, every person, object, and stone has to have some sort of covering, a layer of protection made from cloth, brick or dust. Men and women cover their heads with skullcaps and headscarves. These standards of modesty also apply to their animals, their speech, their ideas. Why should Dede’s death be an exception?

The car veers left onto a loosely graveled road that leads into the village. Orhan searches for the wooden post that used to announce the village’s name in unassuming hand-painted white letters, but it’s nowhere to be found. A young boy in a bright orange shirt and green shorts walks behind a herd of cows. He sweeps a long stick at their backs, ushering them into one of many narrow corridors sandwiched between mud-caked houses.

“Is this it?” asks the driver.

“Yes,” says Orhan. “Just follow this road until you see the house with the large columns.”

The sound of crunching gravel comes to a halt as the car stops. Orhan extinguishes his cigarette and steps out. He can hear the singular sound of hired wailers, their practiced percussion luring him out of the car: two, maybe three female voices filled with a kind of sorrow and vulnerability that comes only with practice. The two-story family home is a dilapidated old ruin by any standards, but here in the forgotten back pocket of Central Anatolia, it is considered a sturdy and grand affair. A thin film of mustard colored stucco advances and retreats over hand cut stones of putty and grey, reminding Orhan of a half-peeled piece of dried out fruit. The Victorian looking house, complete with parlor and basement, is the birthplace of Tarik Inc, which began as a small collection of workshops and which, over the past six decades grew into an automated firm, exporting textiles as far away as Italy and Germany. Here, inside these ruinous walls, according to family legend, Orhan’s great-grandfather had woven a kilim for the Sultan himself. That was before the Empire became a republic, before democracy and westernization revolutionized what it meant to be a Turk. In the courtyard to the left of the house, the massive copper cauldrons stand guarding the wilting structure. Through the decades they’ve gone from holding fabric dye to sheltering children playing hide and seek, to storing the discarded ashes of hookah pipes and cigarettes. These vessels have contained the many bits and pieces of Dede’s life. Perhaps it is only fitting that they also housed his last breath.

Orhan weaves a familiar path around the cauldrons. All empty, except one which holds a murky sledge like dye that looks more black than blue, the color of a goodbye. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. Setting plays such a significant role in Orhan’s Inheritance. How do the two settings, Karod village in Turkey and the Ararat Home in Los Angeles, affect the characters?

2. Why do you think Kemal dies the way he does? What is the symbolism of the vat of dye?

3. Orhan’s early photography was so focused on abstraction that he failed to see the world around him clearly. How does Orhan’s early photography compare with his later work, when he takes up the camera again? In what way does he see the world differently? What role do photography and drawing play in the novel? What is the connection between photography and memory?

4. Do you think words construct meaning differently than visual images do, whether drawn or photographed?

5. How are Orhan and Seda similar when it comes to their relationship with their pasts? What is Ani’s perspective on the past? What do you think these characters learn from one another?

6. Do your feelings about Fatma change in the course of the novel? If so, how?

7. Why does Lucine feel that she and Kemal can never be together?

8. There are many instances of individual and collective guilt in the story as exemplified in the war scenes with Kemal and his soldier friends. Do you think there’s such a thing as collective guilt? If so, is it easier to bear and what are its effects?

9. How do Fatma’s parables illustrate or refute her attitude toward words?

10. Once Orhan knows about his family’s and country’s history, how do you think he should respond? Do you think he’s done enough by the end of the novel?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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  "Orhan's Inheritance"by Carol L. (see profile) 05/10/16

Too many characters & couldn't keep my interest.

by Corrine S. (see profile) 04/12/16

  "Orhans inheritance"by Carolyn R. (see profile) 11/27/15

I knew very little about this part of history so in that respect it peaked my interest and does make me want to know a bit more. I wanted a little more from the ending but not quite sure how else it could... (read more)

  "The Armenian genocide, like the Holocaust, should be remembered to prevent history from repeating itself."by Gail R. (see profile) 09/15/15

Orhan’s Inheritance, Aline Ohanesian, author, Assaf Cohen, narrator
Based on the author’s background and actual history, this book tells the story of the Armenian genocide that has for
... (read more)

  "One of the best books this year"by Wendy G. (see profile) 05/29/15

I didn't know what to expect when I started this book - but it grabbed my attention immediately. I was unable to put the book down - fabulous story line - great writing

  "ORHAN”S INHERITANCE by Aline Ohanesian"by Becky H. (see profile) 05/28/15

The discord between the Turks and the Armenians comes alive in Ohanesian’s book that details three generations of those two groups that once occupied the same land. The book begins in 199... (read more)

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