‘What are you saying in a whisper?’ asked the author long before he was an author. ‘I’m reading,’ his grandfather Garabet answered. ‘How are you reading? Where is the book?’ ‘I don’t need the book. I know it by heart.’ ‘All right, but what is the book called? Who wrote it?’ ‘Perhaps you, one fine day.’ Unlike most books, The Book of Whispers didn’t need writing to exist; the book ‘lived’ long before it was written. Indeed, writing hasn’t done much to solve the fundamental difficulty that lies at its heart: there are things so painful to remember, so traumatic to talk about, that any story dealing with them will increase the pain rather than heal it. For fear of adding to the pain, the story can only be told in a whisper. Writing such a book, then, is one of the hardest tasks a writer can face: to make the unspeakable speak. Ultimately, as the author himself admits, the task is near-impossible: the story of The Book of Whispers is one that ‘nobody can tell in its entirety, as if each teller feared to understand the whole, thereby trying to save his life from meaninglessness’.
It must be this difficulty that makes Varujan Vosganian’s book such an unclassifiable project: it is not a novel, yet it is a compelling read; it is not a memoir, though the labour of memory lies at its core; it