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A Heartbreaking Story of Survival - an Editorial Review of "Who She Left Behind"

Book Blurb:

"Who She Left Behind" is a captivating historical fiction novel that spans multiple generations and delves into the emotional lives of its characters.

Set in various time periods, from the declining days of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey to Armenian communities in Rhode Island and Massachusetts during the 1990s, the book provides a deep immersion into a lesser-known era. The story revolves around themes of survival, motherhood, and love, drawing inspiration from the author's own family history. The narrative is framed by a mysterious discovery of Armenian dolls at Victoria's grave many years later, which leads her on a quest for redemption as an immigrant, wife, sister, and aunt.

If you love "The Sandcastle Girls" by Chris Bohjalian, "Orhan's Inheritance" by Aline Ohanesian, "Rise the Euphrates" by Carol Edgarian, or "All The Light There Was" by Nancy Kricorian, then this book is for you!

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Author Bio:

Victoria Atamian Waterman is an Armenian American storyteller and speaker who draws inspiration from the quirky multigenerational, multilingual home in which she was raised with her grandparents, survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Her empowerment of today’s women and girls makes her voice ideal for telling the little-known stories of yesterday’s women leaders. Her TED Talk, “Today’s Girls are Tomorrow’s Leaders” has been seen by thousands of viewers. When she is not writing and speaking, she is reading, puzzle-making and volunteering. Victoria lives in Rhode Island and is enjoying life with her husband, children, and grandchildren. “What She Left Behind” is her first novel.

Editorial Review:

Deported from her village by the Ottomans on a death march in 1915, Victoria’s life is upended. She is lucky to find shelter in a Danish missionary’s refugee camp for Armenian women and children. Stunned by her own experiences and saddened by those of her people, Victoria soon finds herself working alongside the missionary to liberate young Armenian women and help in any way that she can. While her good deeds save hundreds, her own plight is still tragic and Victoria is forced to leave behind her own child and flee to America where she builds a new life of her own even while constantly wondering what has become of her child. Who She Left Behind follows Victoria’s story and what becomes of her and her family during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and the aftermath of this tragic event. The story spans generations and settings across the world as her family settles in Armenian communities in New England. Based on the author’s own family history, Who She Left Behind is a book that will tear at your heartstrings and stay with you long after the last page. It is a beautifully written story of survival and resilience that is endearing and stunning to read.

A year passed quietly in Gürin, and once again the Feast of Ascension approached. This year, Victoria and Hasmik would be permitted to take part in the ritual of Vichak, filling special clay jars with seven handfuls of water from seven springs, seven petals from seven flowers, and seven stones from seven flowing streams. ”

This book spans various timelines and settings throughout the novel which some readers will find disheartening. The author makes these jumps between time periods and settings clear and executes this style quite well so readers who enjoy multigenerational and dimensional stories will find Who She Left Behind a delight to read.

Victoria’s heart soared at the thought of the dashing women driving cars through the sands, and riding horses along the rivers, lifting the tattooed women and girls out of servitude and taking them somewhere safe.”

Historical fiction fans will find Who She Left Behind to be a breath of fresh air. Often, the subjects of historical fiction books tend to focus on the same historical events so coming across a book that looks at a lesser-known and more unique event is always a treasure, and Who She Left Behind does just that. This novel examines the deportation and genocide of Armenians that was carried out by the Muslim Ottoman Empire during World War I in 1915 and the long-lasting and generational ramifications of that event in one particular family as they end up in Armenian communities in Rhode Island. This is an event that is rarely depicted in literature or even taught primarily when discussing World War I. Readers will likely have little knowledge of this but will find that Waterman’s extensive research shines through in her novel and will walk away with more knowledge than when they picked Who She Left Behind.

She began to suspect that, like her cooking lessons, attending services meant more to her sister than religious observation or social time, at least where Vicky was concerned. For Yessa, the future and Vicky’s married status were the most important things to think about.”

Victoria Atamian Waterman is a master storyteller. Her talent shines through as a writer in Who She Left Behind and she is able to weave an intricate and compelling story of resilience and survival. Her writing is truly one of the most endearing things and she has the ability to use her writing abilities to make the story even more gripping for readers. Her writing draws emotions from the readers and allows readers to empathize with the main character and her experiences throughout the novel. Most readers will find Who She Left Behind nearly impossible to take a break from reading as the writing keeps you on the edge of your seat and invested in the story from the very first page to the very last.

Alone among the headstones in this section, the tree was ringed by a low stone wall amid a circular terrace paved with worn stone. It was massive–as wide as a small car; Gül couldn’t see around the trunk when she was standing in front of it. Its knobby, ancient roots rose and dove again into the soil, giving rise to almost otherworldly branches and a canopy nearly too perfect to be real.”

The intended audience for Who She Left Behind is most likely those who enjoy historical fiction as well as those who prefer to read sweeping family dramas that span multiple generations. It is a true gem in the historical fiction genre as it covers historical events that are often not written about and this unique look at lesser-known events creates a novel that will provide enjoyment for historical fiction fans. At just over four hundred pages, it is not an overbearing novel that might be difficult for new readers of the historical fiction genre. The author also includes a comprehensive chart with information about the characters, events, and places mentioned in the story making it even more accessible for new historical fiction readers.

The hush which fell over the room was a living thing, pulsing around them as Vicky locked eyes with the little girl she’d lost forty years before. No longer a girl, but a woman grown, with threads of ivory in her hair.”

A well-researched, compelling story written in beautiful prose earns Who She Left Behind a solid five out of five rating. With a historical background that is not often written about, beautifully developed characters, and the author’s ability to draw emotions from her readers with her writing, readers will find Who She Left Behind to be one of the best historical fiction books they have read without a doubt.


“Who She Left Behind” by Victoria Atamian Waterman receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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