Vahan Totovents

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A prolific and multi-faceted writer, Vahan Totovents (1893-1938) produced with equal facility poems in prose and verse, short stories, novellas, novels, critical and biographical works, comedies, dramas, translations from Shakespeare, and a widely read and admired autobiographical work titled Life on the Old Roman Road. Writes Rouben Zarian in his reminiscences of Totovents: "He wrote fast. He had no trouble finding the right word. His sentences flowed with ease. He didn't try to achieve perfection, only spontaneity. He had something to say and he said it. He was never idle. A born writer and a reporter by training, he never waited for inspiration. And since his urge to write came from deep within and was irresistible, sentences and paragraphs followed one another with phenomenal speed."

Totovents was born in Mezre, a small town on the Euphrates in the province of Kharpert, where he studied under such masters of Armenian prose as Telgadinstsi and Rouben Zartarian. In his youth he traveled extensively in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he fought as a volunteer in the Caucasus during World War I. "I wanted to see my country liberated," he writes in his autobiographical sketch. "I saw instead its total destruction, and torrents of my countrymen's blood. I saw human suffering of such depth that there can be nothing deeper in this world. I saw nights gorged with blood. I saw men crazed by hunger; I saw bloodthirsty mobs attacking innocent men, women, and children, and I heard the howls of their terrified victims." Another two years (1920-22) of wandering followed - Istanbul, Paris, New York, whence he returned to Yerevan and where, in addition to over a dozen books, he published countless essays and articles in newspapers and periodicals. Criticized for failing to produce works with "proletarian" content, Totovents refused to conform and was eventually arrested and exiled to Siberia. Very little is known about his last years. Sarepig Manoogian, his official biographer, simply informs us that Totovents "died at the height of his creative powers leaving behind many unfinished projects..."

From Ara Baliozian's "The Armenians: Their History & Culture" - Reproduced here with his permission.