The Infidel

Canadian Book Review Annual, July 2008

Two recent letters to the editor of The New York Times, one from a Turkish official, the other from an officer of the Armenian Assembly of America, expressed opposing views of the events of 1915-1917, during which more than a million Christian Armenians in Turkey were eliminated under orders from the Turkish government. The subject has current interest, in part, because of Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union and its continued denial of the massacres. Hamilton's Pierre Piccard leaves little doubt in his first novel about which side of the dispute he is on. Piccard has extensive knowledge of the Middle East and the roots of Turkish and Armenian history. He speaks both Turkish and Arabic and currently teaches theology at a university in the area.

There are two intertwining threads to The Infidel. The narrator, Tarik, is a modern, middle-class Turkish reporter whose knowledge of his own past is, at best, murky. He is introduced to Jesus, one of the last of the Chaldean Christians of Turkey, a minority which, like the Armenians, was all but eliminated by the Turkish authorities during World War 1. Tarik's intent is to conduct a series of interviews with Jesus, who is called "Infidel" because of his non-Muslim beliefs, and write an article about the Chaldeans' place in Turkish history. Piccard says in a postscript that "the story of Jesus the Infidel is so true, that even I am unable to determine where fiction takes over from fact." Tarik accompanies Jesus on a journey through Turkish Kurdistan on a search for the burial grounds of his murdered family. While on this pilgrimage, Tarik is introduced to much of his own past—to the point where he realizes that he and the old man are much more than friends.

Those interested in the controversial subject of the Armenian genocide will find much in this book to help their understanding. Piccard writes well and has the ability to explain clearly a difficult and troubling period. — Matt Hartman