This review was originally published at Women Write About Comics.
Have you ever picked up a book just because you had a good feeling about it? You’ve never heard of it, don’t recognize the author, and don’t even know what it’s about? This began as one of those books. It also happened to be one of the rare instances when an impulse buy not only met, but exceeded my expectations.
When I got home from the bookstore and finally bothered to read the blurb, it sounded almost like a mystery. A teenager and her friend go missing, the family is distraught, etc., etc. But what I found was that by the beginning of the novel, everything regarding Araxi’s disappearance has already been dealt with. She left of her own will, didn’t leave any way for her family to find her, and the police have done all they can do. Okay, I thought, so it’s really about Araxi and why she ran away right? Not quite. As the title states right off the bat, what Zilelian is interested in writing about is how Araxi’s disappearance has forced her remaining family to confront their tragic existence and question how each of them has contributed to the inhospitable life that drove her away. More than that though, Zilelian traces the paths of each family member that led them to this point.
Also the title suggests, this book is about what these characters have lost. Araxi is not the only one who is gone: her mother Tamar has spent her life mourning a love that could never have been, and her father Levon is infuriated by this emotional absence. Family members pass, friends move away, and each character must face the person they have become.
Zilelian’s debut novel conveys an urgency that I haven’t found in others like it. And it’s not a desperation to reclaim what the characters have lost, but this aggressive, pervasive misery at its absence. Through the losses of life, love, and hope, Zilelian illustrates what remains when these things leave us.