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Shahan Shahnour: Նահանջը առանց երգի (Retreat without Song)

This is the story of a decidedly messy love affair. Bedros has managed to flee the Armenian Genocide, by escaping from Istanbul. He arrived in Paris where his name was gallicised to Pierre. A man called Lescure offers him a job (apparently because he considers Armenians reliable), working in a photographic studio. He becomes manager of the studio, quickly learning the technical side. There is a hint – but only a hint- that some of the photography is somewhat risqué but Pierre seems to fare well. He learns that the studio is actually owned by a voluptuous lady called Mme Jeanne (though she is called Madame, she is not married), who comes in once or twice a week. Pierre seems to have a very active love life, eventually taking up with Lise, a young working girl who adores him. He will soon dump her.

But gradually, Pierre and Jeanne are falling for one another. He starts calling her Nenette and eventually she invites him on holiday with her and they go off to the country, where they spend a couple of weeks of passion. However, when they return, she seems to cool off. Pierre is devastated (as Lise is devastated by his lack of attention). There are a few meetings, with some passion, but he can never get a straight explanation from her. He begins to suspect her relationship with Lescure and when he follows him finds that they are sharing a flat. (She insists that they sleep in separate rooms.) Only when he gets into the flat, through the maid, and then searches it, does he find the guilty secret that Lescure and Jeanne share. From there things go from bad to worse. Jeanne and Lescure both try to cajole him to keep quiet. She disappears again and is involved in a car accident. He finds her again and they get back together. Meanwhile he has set up his own photographic studio that does quite well. However, the relationship remains tempestuous and the inevitable happens.

There is a secondary theme to the story – the situation of the Armenian exiles. Pierre is friendly with a group of Armenians but he and his friends are concerned that the Armenians are gradually becoming assimilated into French life and culture, as fewer and fewer of them seem to be involved in the Armenian community. This remains a strong theme throughout the novel. One character, in particular, gets very upset when everyone starts speaking French instead of Armenian. It all ends sadly – for Pierre, for Jeanne, for Lise and the Armenian community. It is a fascinating if somewhat strange novel but interesting in its open depiction of sexual passion (which led to it having serious censorship problems.)

Publishing history

First published by Haratch in 1929
First published in English by Tparan Masis, Paris in 1929
Translated by Mischa Kudian