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Excerpt from The Hundred-Year Walk by Dawn Anahid MacKeen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Hundred-Year Walk

An Armenian Odyssey

by Dawn Anahid MacKeen

The Hundred-Year Walk by Dawn Anahid MacKeen X
The Hundred-Year Walk by Dawn Anahid MacKeen
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2017, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Part One
Before
The Lost World
2006

For as long as I can remember, my mother has been talking to her dead parents. Growing up, I would find her in the kitchen, locked in conversation with Mama and Baba. At the sink, her hands scrubbing a dish, her voice a murmur. So it was no surprise when, in the summer of 2006, I stumbled on her again like this. It had been just a few weeks since I had moved back into my childhood home, and there I was in the doorway trying to eavesdrop, just like I had back in grade school. Only now I was thirty-five. I couldn't quite make out her words, drowned as they were by running water and the clank of Corelle plates. Oblivious to me standing there, my mother continued to shake her cropped brown bob back and forth, moving her lips furtively. 

"Inch ge medadzes," she said, shaking her head, the Armenian words sounding like gibberish to me. 

"Are you talking to them again?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied, her mood perennially upbeat. "I ask them for advice, and they always give it to me. They are my spirit guides, Dawn. They should be yours too!" 

I rolled my eyes and we both laughed, not taking ourselves too seriously. In the weeks since I'd left my bustling life in New York and returned to the Los Angeles house where I had been raised, my mother's otherworldly talks had become part of my universe again. I'd forgotten the never-ending surprises of life with my small but plucky mother, Anahid. Spontaneous and excitable, she could transform a drab doctor's office or a corner diner into a party, just by raising her arms and breaking into dance. 

My father, Jim, and I would remark that she was the last person you'd expect to be a probation officer. She was unflinchingly positive about the human capacity for goodness, allowing the petty criminals she supervised to get away with nearly anything on her watch. She'd devoted her life to helping people. Not only her clients, but also Armenian immigrants unfamiliar with the customs of the United States. 

Our phone was constantly ringing. She'd taught my American father and me just enough of the language for us to say "One moment" in Armenian— Meg vayrgean — when people called and started prattling away about needing a ride to the doctor, the lawyer, or the green-card office. 

Despite the comfort of being back in my roomy, Spanish-style home, the initial excitement had worn off. Huddled under my flower-print bedspread, surrounded by high-school soccer trophies and my homecoming-princess tiara, I felt like a character in a dark comedy about an aging prom queen who returns to her childhood home after flaming out in the big city. By the hour, my life in New York felt farther away — my morning runs through snowy Central Park before work; my deadline hustle to file yet another health-care story at my magazine job; my race to meet friends after work for a wine-fueled late dinner somewhere dark and candlelit. For years, my life in New York had felt like a sprint in a marathon that I never wanted to stop. It was what I craved; it was what I thought I needed; it was why I'd left my home and moved across the country in the first place. 

But shortly after my birthday the previous February, something had changed. I'd never paid much attention to my mother's calls to come home, but suddenly I couldn't ignore her anymore. Perhaps it was her advanced age (she was then seventy-eight). Or maybe it was my own realization that, as a reporter, I was spending my life telling other people's stories and ignoring my own family's incredible one. 

Because my grandfather had died when I was a toddler, what I knew about him was mostly family legend. Countless times, I had heard the dramatic tales from my mother of how her father, Stepan Miskjian, had wandered in the desert of what is now Syria, how he had staggered across it for a week on nothing but two cups of water. How he had led a group of Armenians to safety, away from the Turks who wanted to kill them. 

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Excerpted from The Hundred-Year Walk by Dawn Anahid MacKeen. Copyright © 2016 by Dawn Anahid MacKeen. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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