Monday, July 20, 2009

Reader's Diary #509: William Saroyan: Seventy Thousand Assyrians

Yesterday we were visiting our friends' campsite when their Armenian neighbours showed up and offered to cook us all a traditional Armenian meal. My first thought was great! But that was quickly followed by where the hell is Armenia? Promising to research that when I got home, I feared I'd forget what country it was once they started toast after toast with straight vodka. However, it turned out to be a wonderful evening. They were truly great, warm people and the food was just amazing.

And I did manage to find out more about Armenia today, even going so far as to look for an Armenian author for Short Story Monday. William Saroyan was actually born and raised in California but as his parents were Armenian immigrants, he was usually referred to as Armenian-American. Certainly Armenian identity is a focus point of the short story I've chosen today: "Seventy Thousand Assyrians".

My head is still reeling from this story. I really hope that doesn't scare anyone off, because I do recommend reading it. You may not have as much difficulty as I. In fact, I'm sure many would even say it's an easy read and his style is undeniably engaging and unique.

However, I'm convinced that there's a conundrum here and I'm going to attempt to work it out. Hold onto your hat, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

In the very first paragraph, Saroyan writes, "I am writing a very serious story, perhaps one of the most serious I shall ever write. That is why I am being flippant." Well how can this be? Doesn't it seem contradictory? Not necessarily. Consider being in a group about to discuss a subject that is important, but one you're not willing to contribute for whatever reason. I've been stuck in these situations before and I've often managed by throwing out irrelevant one liners to ease my tension and not seriously get involved. Is this what Saroyan is saying his approach is? If so, after reading the entire story, I'd question his honesty.

Saroyan also seems to make the point that truth comes from simple statements and everyday conversations, not ones that intentionally seek to solve life's mysteries and offer profundity. This implies that there is no such thing as being profound, for if profundity cannot offer truth, it isn't profound at all. What makes it even more complex to me is that Saroyan's supposed message seems itself profound. But, by the old definition of profound, that means his message is true and therefore impossible. But then, he told us upfront he was being flippant. Flippant does not equal profound. Oh wait, does flippancy equal make simple statements? So was it or wasn't it profound? Maybe it was stupid. Or maybe I'm the stupid one and am way off the mark. How much vodka did I have anyway?

Somewhere in the mess I've created is a beautiful story about cultures and global community. Ignore me, pay more attention to Saroyan and report back here.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave your link in the comments below.)


Lizzy Siddal said...

Just back from Berlin where I enjoyed an anthology of short stories set in the city. Highlights at:

Teddy Rose said...

It sounds like an interesting story John. I will have to give it a try.

Here is mine:

I won`t have anything for next Monday as I will be away on vacation.

Unknown said...

I've not read Saroyan in years. I should give him another look.

Here's my story, actually an essay by George Orwell.