Like Water on Stone
Author: Dana Walrath
Published: November 11th, 2014 by Delacorte Press
Summary: Blending magical realism and lyrical free verse, this is an intense survival story of three siblings caught up in the horrific events of the Armenian genocide of 1915.
It is 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is crumbling into violence.
Beyond Anatolia, in the Armenian Highlands, Shahen Donabedian dreams of going to New York. Sosi, his twin sister, never wants to leave her home, especially now that she is in love. At first, only Papa, who counts Turks and Kurds among his closest friends, stands in Shahen’s way. But when the Ottoman pashas set their plans to eliminate all Armenians in motion, neither twin has a choice.
After a horrifying attack leaves them orphaned, Shahen and Sosi flee into the mountains, carrying their little sister, Mariam. Shahen keeps their parents’ fate a secret from his sisters. But the children are not alone. An eagle named Ardziv watches over them as they run at night and hide each day, making their way across mountain ridges and rivers red with blood.
Review: This is a beautiful book in verse that is set in the Ottoman Empire during the 1910s. It blends genres of magical realism and historical fiction. The point of view alternates with each poem, so I came to understand the differing perspectives of the family depicted in the text. The horrific genocide against Armenians is not common in literature, and this text sheds light on a time period that should be depicted more often. The strength of the children in this book will be inspirational to readers.
Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I would recommend using this book as a literature circle text. Each group could be assigned a text that depicts a different genocide. This would provide rich opportunities to discuss parallels and differences across texts. Then, teachers might consider having students examine both historical and modern genocide. This might involve critical conversations about how we might work to promote social justice. They might even critique conceptions of social justice, such as slacktivism.
Discussion Questions: What does this story teach us about humanity?; How might a feminist read this text? What issues of gender emerge? Is this acceptable due to the historical setting of the text?
“Hate makes jagged spikes of light,
and blame can crack the sky.
As pierced with wounds
from sharp white teeth,
the Ottoman air had ruptured.
Massacres would come again
as the drum-capped rulers
spread their hate” (p. 17-18).
Read This If You Loved: Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen; Audacity by Melanie Crowder; Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto by Paul B. Janeczko; Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys; Night by Elie Wiesel; A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah