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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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The Forty Days Of Musa Dagh

Reviewed by Seymour Goldberg, '36

The Magpie, June 1936, v. 20, n. 2., p. 57.

This historical novel was conceived by the author in 1929, when he saw some miserable Armenian children, many of them crippled, working in a carpet factory in Damascus. It is the story of the attempt of the Turkish Government during the World War to exterminate every Armenian in the land. The method was quite simple. The heads of the Turkish Government, (which was ruled by the army at the time), would decide that a certain Armenian village must be "liquidated." A troop of soldiers would then order every resident of that village to leave his home. All the peoples men, women, and children, were lined up and made to march across Turkey at a forced pace. Since this order came with virtually no warning, the people had little time to prepare them" selves for the rigors of the trip they were about to undertake. They were stripped of their farms, livestock, homes, and household goods. The soldiers allowed them to take away only those things which they could carry upon their backs. They lost their horses and donkeys, so the old people and cripples were obliged to limp along with the rest.

On and on they went, day after day. There was no stopping for rest. The rough road wore their shoes out, and they had to stumble along with their-feet wrapped with rags. These were of little use, and the road was stained with the blood which came from the wounds upon their feet. The hot sun beat down upon them mercilessly, as did the heavy whips of the soldiers. When their tired bodies could stand no more, one by one, they dropped by the roadside, dead. Their corpses were left unburied, food for the vultures. The few who managed to survive the tortures of the march died of starvation when they reached their destination, the barren shores of the Red Sea.

The realism with which the author writes is startling. He paints so graphic a picture of the plight of the oppressed people, torn from their homes, deprived of their possessions, and forced to march, that the reader can almost hear the wails of the hapless people, who knew only too well what was in store for them.

Thus Mr. Werfel deals with the persecution of the whole race in general, but specifically, he tells of the heroic stand made by several thousand Armenians on the heights of Musa Dagh, a mountain near Antioch, in Syria. The residents of five Armenian villages near the mountain had heard of the fate of their countrymen. They were determined to resist the certain death which would be theirs if captured by the Turks. Led by one, Gabriel Bagradian, a few thousand people entrenched themselves with their wives, children, and a few belongings upon the heights of Musa Dagh. There, for forty days, they withstood the onslaughts of the Turkish troops.

The privations suffered by those upon the mountain were intense. Very little food was to be had, and most of their flour was destroyed by a cloudburst a few hours after the people had reached the mountain. It was necessary to eat roots, bark, and whatever scraps could be found, in order to live. To add to this trouble, many of the people were laid low by pestilence, and were isolated from the rest of the camp.

Bagradian received a terrible blow when he heard that his son had been killed and his body mutilated by the Turks. The shock given him by this news so unnerved him that he relaxed his vigilance, and the Turks nearly captured the mountain.

The final salvation of the Armenians by some French gunboats, leaving behind Bagradian, who was shot by a soldier, is a truly masterful conclusion to the book. It is a magnificent work, with all the difficult situations excellently handled. Although it is longer than the usual modern novel, the story does not drag. It leaves the reader horror-stricken at man's cruelty to his fellow man, but thankful that fortunately, in other parts of the world, there is so much done to alleviate rather than cause suffering.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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