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Journey to Virginland turns Armenian-American literature upside down

In 2012, Armenian-American literature took a breathtaking turn with the arrival of Journey to Virginland, the debut novel by Armen Melikian. Thanks to Melikian’s work, no longer will Armenian-American literature be known exclusively for its Saroyanesque pastiches and fictionalized memoirs, as wonderful in their own right that these are.

This novel takes literature to a hitherto unthinkable level precisely because Melikian helps liberate that legacy from both of its hyphenated constituents: the novel is neither an “Armenian” nor an “American” work per se, and, as importantly, shakes the very foundations of the contemporary Armenian-American mindset.

What Melikian instead proposes is a recalibrated Armenian-American literature (and, by extension, a new Armenian-American way of being) that eschews its ghetto mentality, gratuitous tribalism, and ethos of victimhood in order to force-open the pathways of Armenian thought to the challenges and wondrous creative field of the world at large.

Writing about Melikian’s work, Paul McCarthy, New York Times bestselling author and a professor of English at the University of Ulster, Ireland, says: “In the best sense, I’m reminded of George Orwell’s classics, and other authors of similar stature, though there is no true parallel possible with a novel as unique in concept and execution as Journey to Virginland.”

The first Epistle of a trilogy, it tells the story of Dog, a rascally antihero, who quests for meaning and identity in the mire of a fast-shifting global paradigm. At turns hilarious and touching, the novel interweaves Melikian’s breezy storytelling with his powerful observations on religion, history, philosophy, art, and sex, all of which both focus on and transcend the Armenian context. Thus Melikian succeeds in elevating Armenian-American literature from the local to the universal, ultimately bringing to the table a vision of human transformation that helps make it a throbbing, urgently involved powerhouse of world art.

Interested in reading Armenian-American literature? Get your copy of Journey to Virginland today!