Books·Original Fiction

Rima Elkouri's novel Manam tells the stories of women in exile, forgotten by history — read an excerpt now

The novel is a finalist for the $60,000 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. The winner will be revealed on Nov. 2, 2022.

The novel is a finalist for the $60,000 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize

A book cover featuring a black-and-white photo from the Armenian genocide alongside a black-and-white portrait of its author, a 40-something woman with a brunette bob.
Manam is a novel by Rima Elkouri, right, which was translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott. (Mawenzi House, Editions Boreal)

Rima Elkouri's novel Manam follows main character Léa as, fuelled by her grandmother's refusal to divulge an important family story, she travels to her ancestral village, Manam, in Turkey to uncover her family's past. Helped by a Kurdish filmmaker and guide, Léa learns that during the Armenian genocide, nearly the entire population of the village were killed or flex to exile in Syria, which, for Léa, begs the question: How did her grandmother and her family survive? 

It is one of five books shortlisted for the 2022 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Prize for Fiction. The $60,000 award recognizes the best novel or short story collection published in Canada. The winner will be announced on Nov. 2, 2022.

"It's not so much a book about the Armenian genocide. It's more of a book that explores silence, courage, memory, transmission, mourning, pain and hope through the eyes of women. We all have stories of family that we question ourselves about. What is my legacy, exactly? What should I do with the story?" Elkouri told CBC Books in an interview.

 Elkouri is a journalist and columnist from Montreal, where she currently writes for La Presse. Manam is her debut novel.

Manam was translated into English by the Montreal translation team of Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott. 

You can read an excerpt below.

Let's begin at the end.

Teta died today. Teta passed away in this country that had become hers, while the Syria she loved so much was dying too. She died at peace, after a long, beautiful life. People go into exile to live in peace, of course. But isn't it also a little to die in peace?

I still see her lighting a cigarette with a slow, graceful movement. I hear her repeating the words of Khalil Gibran. "The more deeply sorrow hollows out your being, the more joy you can contain." For her, joy was only sadness without a mask.

People go into exile to live in peace, of course. But isn't it also a little to die in peace?

She lived 107 years, straddling two worlds. Half of her life in the East, the other half in the West. A life like a bridge between two shores, above raging rapids. As a child, she saw what no child should see. She could have spent her whole life crying over it. She could have nursed an undying hatred. But she clung to silence and to hope. As if she had a deep conviction that memories we don't speak of won't kill us.

There are silences of denial, silences that please the murderers. Murderous silences. There are others that are placed on words like stones of wisdom. Silences without which any survival is impossible, that bind the pain and keep it inside. These silences appear the same. They sound totally different.

Of course, she had forgotten nothing. But she refused to make us carry the burden of her painful memories. She refused to let the sediments of hatred settle in our hearts.

LISTEN | Rima Elkouri reflects on sharing her grandmother's story:

Sabrina speaks to La Presse journalist and columnist Rima Elkouri about her book 'Manam' and its shortlisting for the Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Prize for Fiction. Finalists win $5,000. The winner gets $60,000.

We are our silences even more than our words. Of all stories, the ones that mark us most are those that remain untold. All the ones that are best forgotten. All the ones that are revealed deep in our eyes. The memories that are too dark. The pain that is too sharp. But also the happiness that is most often silent. With death, what remains of those unsaid words? What legacy for those who will come after us?

Of all stories, the ones that mark us most are those that remain untold.

As I watched the gravediggers lower my Teta's coffin into the ground, I had the impression that they were burying the strongbox of my memory before I had even found the key to it. I threw a rose on her grave. I felt a breeze on the back of my neck. I made a promise to myself. I will go to her country and delve into her memory. I will try to tell her story. Because what is worse than death is forgetting.

Manam by Rima Elkouri, translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott (Mawenzi, 2021).

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