As with all books that question social, cultural, and religious mores, Armen Melikian’s Journey to Virginland is certain to offend some readers. For the most part, what has been handed down in the form of beliefs and customs goes unexamined, and is embraced as a matter of convenience, identity, and survival. Therefore it takes an open-minded individual to accept the author on his own terms, and to listen without feeling the need to argue with him or change him in any way — in other words, to go ahead and enter his vision or dream. It is not necessary for the two of them to agree. Only madmen are unwilling to entertain the possibility that they do not know everything — madmen, and those whose lives have taught them to be wary, jealous, bitter, competitive, and afraid.
There is, of course, another side of the matter: namely, how well — how inventively, imaginatively, effectively — does Journey to Virginland meet the demands of literature? And equally important, does it live up to and transcend its own demands, and ultimately surprise its author? Because if the writer is beyond surprise, and therefore unable to laugh at himself, his readers will sense it from the beginning. A book that is merely clever and cunning will appeal only to clever and cunning readers. A book that is human, on the other hand, is apt to be treated as a worthy document, friend, and companion.
So what kind of book is this? Most assuredly, Journey to Virginland possesses the requisite humor that serious art must possess if it is also to be human. Likewise, we find in it a compelling sense of urgency: in essence, the time to think and act is now, because nothing less than our self-understanding is at stake:
The choices are literally between transcendence and self-destruction, even through revolt. And as long as there are oppressors in the world of men, the fake currency of saviors will be in high demand.
Ethnicity, nations, religions, politics are, in effect, surface phenomena; we need to dig deeper than that, to the heart of things, and this book, at turns feverish and poetic, and always refreshingly unapologetic, leads us in that direction. Satire and wordplay flow freely in this outsider’s narrative, this twenty-first century life of the artist as a young dog. To the degree that they are obstacles, they yet serve as their own kind of visual-rhythmic accompaniment. After all, as a cursory glance at old English texts reveals, language is a living, changing thing. And so to a degree, conventional meaning is both transitory and a drug. To rely on it exclusively is to be defined by words themselves, and to be enslaved by them. The danger becomes even greater when we approach the old religious texts. Venerable, hoary institutions, beware.
Ultimately, there is no need to compare this novel, or anti-novel, to other books. To those widely read, several will suggest themselves. Melikian is obviously among that number, and cannot believe his work is without influence or predecessor. But Journey to Virginland is different enough, energetic enough, challenging enough, and informative enough to carry its own weight. In the end, Armen Melikian has not only written this book; I think it has written, and will go on writing, him.
Journey to Virginland: Epistle 1
by Armen Melikian
Two Harbors Press
ISBN 10: 1-935097-51-2
ISBN 13: 978-1-935097-51-8
272 Pages. Hardcover.