A prominent Boston law firm with a reputation for taking on bizarre cases that many lawyers might refuse has been asked to defend a notorious client – a client with whom the law firm has a history. They decide to defend a client who is both controversial and tends to vanish at the most inconvenient times. The client is a parapsychologist named James Gordon Moon who has a reputation of successfully communicating with spirits.
Now the mercurial Dr. Moon has been arrested for kidnapping a young Chinese prodigy. His only explanation is that the child – an award winning violinist – is under the influence of a malevolent ghost and Moon insists the girl can only placate the spirit by playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto on a world stage. Only this will free her of the hostile spirit that has become intertwined with her soul. Eleven year old Jin Huang must master arguably the most difficult musical composition every written for the violin. Over the hostile objections of her family, and pursued by his checkered past, Moon strives to help the child overcome her demon. No one is certain whether the ghost is real but it is obvious that the child’s obsession will lead to madness unless the young girl plays the most challenging array of musical gymnastics ever composed for the violin flawlessly.
Obsession is a quiet madness that can cripple the soul.
This is a Caucasus tale. It is derived from oral history given by grandfathers to children to remember a world long gone. Unlike most European tales, it does not have a ‘happily ever after’ ending; it is not like the tales mothers tell their sleepy eyed darlings as they drift off to happy dreams. Tales told in the Caucasus by Armenians, Circassians, Georgians, Kurds and Turks are not like the pabulum tales of Westerners with singing birds, talking cuddly furry animals, and kind beautiful sprites that cobble shoes or grant wishes while you sleep. Tales told in the Caucasus usually involve conflict; they are full of grim gnarly reminders of a hard life. They are tales of a short stout people with powerful hands and strong backs who lose their tempers easily; a people capable of bringing down curses, insults, scorn and blows on enemies, and able to nurture generational feuds with friends and family. They are people of the soil, people of the buffalo, and shepherds of the hills. They are people with fearsome thin leather faces and steady continence who enjoy legendary longevity – born and bred in the clear air of the high plains and mountains of a harsh land in a remote part of the world. Their stories fit their collective dark personalities.
And we need to be cautious about veracity since we who were fortunate to know our grandfathers know that tales told by tired old men are full of embellishments, exaggerations and contorted truisms. They are wonderful lessons of life in other times and alien places, but not weighted down with detail, accuracy and not bound with conformation.
For those who love history – and may even think to learn from it – this is a tale that teaches a simple lesson – of life in a harsh land and a harsh time. It is a story told with little attempt at value, proof, or high themes. A good yarn needs none of that. Well – perhaps a good yarn does need at least one serious point – some morale or meaning for those who constantly seek meaning in the random chance of life.
The meaning in this story is possibly lost to those born into a first world culture in the twenty first century since the modern world cannot easily identify with cultures rooted in caste, inequality and subjugation. One must consider a time when justice protected the powerful and the privileged, and ignored or suppressed the minority. It tells of people who were expected to be self-reliant, facing constant attack and forced to accept a designated station in life without protest.
And yet even in this stratified existence, when each subgroup of people is so different, there are occasional circumstances that force us to recognize that we are more similar than is comfortable to admit, more brothers than strangers, more part of a collective humanity than an isolated tribe. Perhaps the meaning we find is the unexpected common bond that transcends the politics, religion, and customs of our forefathers – and that sometimes there is a good that moves us closer to one another than the haters, destructors, conformists and zealots would have us believe possible.
Here is a story that tells of a time when there was no diversity, simply different homogenous cultures often isolated from one another, existing side by side. The tale has been passed on generation to generation now, so that only fragments remain with little proof and many unanswered questions. For this and many other reasons, this must remain a Caucasus tale, more fiction than fact, but based on fact.
And it all happened just this way.
Life and Adventure in the high plains of Kars
For hundreds of years the small country of Armenia within the Ottoman Empire was the site of continuous border conflicts and sporadic wars between the Turks, the Persians and the Tsarist Russians. Then early in the twentieth century, the regional conflicts erupted into a bitter World War, and ethnic “cleansing” decimated the minority population. The causes and magnitude of the killings that took place during and after World War I are still a subject of debate and dispute in Turkey and Armenia today.
The Gathering Place is about those who escaped across Asia to one of the most exotic cities in China, Old Shanghai. Here are tough women overcoming obstacles in a male dominated society, crafty men plotting to protect their fortunes in the midst of overwhelming hostility, and immigrants struggling to survive some of the most horrendous events in modern history.
These stories are a personal history during momentous changes in Asia that spanned the years from the end of World War I to the exodus of most Europeans from China. They may provide a perspective on the immigrant experience and the movement of people in times of war.
Stories from the Armenian Social Club in Old Shanghai