Reader’s Guide

General Discussion Questions

  • These three short stories and the first chapter of Avagyan’s book were published in the April 2015 issue of Words Without Borders in a section called “New Armenian Writing by Women: an Introduction.” What is the impression that English-speaking readers get about Armenia from them? Is it a good introduction to Armenian writing by women? Do you think that the stories are representative of Armenian society today? Do you think that Armenian society still faces today the issues discussed in the reading?
  • If you were to compile a collection of stories to represent Armenian writing (not only by women) today in 2020, what topics and/or stories would you choose?
  • Are there issues or topics that the texts discuss which are universal and are not only specific to Armenian society? For instance, do women deal with gender bias elsewhere in the world? How are the examples you bring similar or different from the situation in Armenia?
  • You will have a chance to speak to both the authors and the translators of the stories. This is a great opportunity to ask them about their ideas behind the texts, the process of their writing/translation, the marketing and reception of their work, etc. Make sure you prepare your questions in advance.

Shushan Avagyan, first chapter from her novel A Book, Untitled

  • How would you describe the style of the writing? What does the text tell us about its own structuring/ordering? Why are certain lines italicized and others not? Why are there no proper paragraphs, transitions, etc. that normally occur in traditional novels? What is a novel? How is this a novel?
  • Who’s the speaker (the “I”)? What do we know about her/him?
  • Who are Shushanik Kurghinian and Zabel Yesayan? Who is Sophie?
  • What “silencing” or “absence” or “erasure” does the text refer to? Silencing of what? Absence of what? Erasure of what?
  • Discuss censorship: how does it function? Discuss historical cases of censorship (Soviet Union, United States, Ottoman Empire/Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, etc.). Is there any censorship today in Armenia? If yes, what kind?
  • What do the references of the Arlez and the legend of Semiramis symbolize? (Ancient Armenians believed that Arlezes (winged dogs) descended from the sky to lick the wounds of dead heroes so they could return to life, be resurrected.) Who/what is the book trying to “resurrect”? Who/what is it mourning?

Ana Davtyan, short story “Wide Shot”

  • The figure of the grandmother looms large in the story. What do you think it symbolizes? Why does the author begin her story by observing her grandmother and saying, “Why don’t old people die?” Does she really want her grandmother to die?
  • What is the role of the mother in the family, according to this story?
  • Toward the end of the story Davtyan writes, “The Armenian home… is the home that preserved this country as a state and the home that released the smoke of responsibility into the sky, disguised as happiness.” How do you interpret this statement? What does it mean in the context of the story? 
  • There is a clear juxtaposition between the choices of leading village and urban life in the story. What is the author’s position? Give examples from the text. 
  • What does the story imply about traditional marriage? What are the author’s views on the subject?
  • Why is the story called “wide shot”? Davtyan’s only reference is in the last sentence; she concludes the story, “I stand on the final gravestone to take a wide shot of the scene.”

Ani Asatryan, short story “I’m Not Going to Die”

  • Why does the narrator introduce the story with a scene where the characters talk about buying jewelry and bread? Asatryan is trying to draw the reader’s attention to a specific topic. What is it? Can you guess what the story will be about based on its initial scene?
  • The narrator says that she had never paid too much attention to girls working at supermarkets before. Why is she paying attention to the checkout girl now? What has changed for her?
  • How does the narrator see herself different from the women working at the supermarket?
  • Upon seeing the little girl playing in the street, the narrator feels the urge to go tell her that “she will never and nowhere else be as safe as she is in this house of hers drawn with chalk on the asphalt in the middle of the courtyard.” What does that mean? What does the narrator really want to tell the little girl? Is this a warning of sorts? 
  • In the previous story the narrator talked about the Armenian home; here we see a picture of a house here–the house drawn with chalk on the asphalt–which serves as a metaphor in this text. How are the home from Davtyan’s piece and the house from Asatryan’s story similar and different?
  • One more woman appears in the story–the worker from the water company. Is she similar to any of the other women in the text? How? 
  • How do you interpret the narrator’s view of “favorite things” as currency?
  • What is the message of the narrator in the letter she writes to the girl? 
  • What does the title “I’m Not Going to Die” mean in relation to the story?

Lilit Karapetyan, “Before the Sunrise”

    • In the beginning of the short story, Karapetyan paints a snapshot of everyday life in Kars, a previously Armenian city that is currently in Turkey with predominantly Turkish and Kurdish population. The author then says, “Kars begins at the fortress and ends at the front of the door of the Apostolic Church.” What does she mean by that statement?
    • The narrator describes herself as a “foreign element” in the city. Why is that?
    • The sentences in Karapetyan’s story chase each other, bubble up, and erupt in rich paragraphs. The images she depicts draw the reader in with their repelling authenticity. How does the author’s style contribute to the story?
    • Many women appear in this story. How are they similar to each other? Are they different from the women we encountered in the previous texts and how?
    • Is the title “Before the Sunrise” metaphorical in some way? What does it mean?