In the first few pages of Katerina Cosgrove’s Bone Ash Sky, Anoush Pakradounian, an Armenian-Turkish American journalist, arrives in Beirut to report on a tribunal. Her father, a member of the Christian Phalangist militia, is being tried in absentia for the massacre of thousands of Palestinian Shia refugees in the Lebanese civil war. It is this inquiry and the quest for the details surrounding her father’s death that propel Anoush through four generations of her family history across Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and Armenia.
From Beirut, the plot moves quickly into early-twentieth-century Syria, where Lilit, Anoush’s Armenian Christian grandmother, is bought as a slave by a Muslim Turk, and Lilit’s brother, Minas, runs from a death camp in Der ez Zor. Concurrent to these stories are those of Anoush’s father and his affair with Sanaya, a Palestinian Muslim. Cosgrove offers yet another cross-cultural relationship in Anoush’s present-day partner, the Israeli Jew, Chaim. She displays finesse with structure – as the novel moves towards its inevitable conclusion, the revelations come so quick and fast that, by the time I put the book down, I barely registered that 200 pages had so swiftly passed.
It’s interesting that Cosgrove, a writer of Greek and Irish-Australian parentage, chose the Christian–Muslim tensions of the Middle East to anchor her story. At times, she writes so adamantly it’s hard not to feel hit over the head with righteousness. Ambitious in its aims, Bone Ash Sky can be clumsy with exposition and character development, excessive in its descriptions and unashamed about its political agenda. But it is also a deeply humane novel, full of passion and prayer – a true call for forgiveness and for the deliverance of a more compassionate world.