Gilgamesh by Joan London


What a wonderful book.  I read it based on the recommendation of Tony's Book World, who lists it among his favorite Australian novels. 

Unlike several novels I've read recently, it has narrative arc, an intense and eventful one at that.  It is the story of a young woman who grows up on a farm in southwestern Australia.  Her family is visited by her English cousin Leopold and his Armenian friend Aram.  Leopold introduces her to his most beloved book, Gilgamesh, and Aram leaves her pregnant.  She makes her way to Armenia with her infant son to find Aram just as World War II is about to begin.  And of course she has no money.  She lands in Yerevan and spends the war years there and is rescued just in the nick of time by Leopold who takes her to Aleppo in Syria where she stays in an orphanage.  Along come some Australian soldiers at the end of the war, and she and Jim (her son) are repatriated.  Wherever she is, Edith meets the most amazing characters, manages to avoid catastrophe, and is able to endure hardship. 

The story is told in an understated way that I found gripping.  While the focus is on Edith, countless other vivid characters emerge.  I loved Tati, the elderly blind poet that Edith takes care of in Yerevan along with the wheelchair-bound musician Nevart who becomes the darling of the Russians occupying the city.  Miss Anoosh, the tiny Armenian woman who ran the orphanage in Aleppo, was the only survivor of the 1915 slaughter of the Armenians. 



  • Thanks for the link to my blog, and I’m happy that you liked Gilgamesh after my recommendation. It really is a fine Australian novel with a quite unique style and subject, isn’t it?

  • And thank you for that recommendation. I was quite moved by the topic of the Armenian massacre — the understated style made it all the more powerful. The Richardson trilogy is also on my to be read list, thanks to your post on Whispering Gums.


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