Like Water on Stone – a novel of Armenia

Photo by: Derek Σωκράτης Finch

–two excerpts–

About the book
An award-winning novel in verse, Like Water on Stone is an imaginative reconstruction of the author’s grandmother’s escape and survival during the Armenian genocide, April 24, 1915. Only one sentence of history was passed down in the family: “After my grandmother’s parents were killed, she and Uncle Benny and Aunt Alice hid during the day and ran at night from their home in Palu to the orphanage in Aleppo.”

The novel tells the story of Shahen and Sosi Donabedian, twin brother and sister in the Armenian highlands, as they flee an attack on their father’s mill, carrying their little sister, Mariam, into the mountains. These excerpts, published here on the anniversary of the tragedy by gracious permission of the author and Random House, are before-and-after vignettes, in each of the twins’ point of view.  Find out more about book and author here.



On frosty nights, paperlike sheets of ice

form where stones block

the stream’s flow.

I pry them up, the icy shapes,

so like states on maps,

and shatter them on the rock.

Morning music for my walk

to Father Manoog.

Our stream flows strong

from winter snow and rain.

Its rushing sound fills my ears

and blocks the steps of soldiers,

four of them, who appear on the banks

pointing their guns, saying,

“You, boy. Take me to the gavour miller.”

I obey, knowing Papa and my brothers are already at work.

Soldiers storm inside, shouting,

“Surrender your arms!”

Misak stops the millstones.

Kevorg steps back against the wall.

Papa takes one step toward them,

his arms out at chest height, palms up,

as though he is in church.

“What arms?” Papa asks them.

“We millers have no need for arms.”

Gentle Papa opens every door and chest,

hiding nothing but his limp.

Soldiers dump out bins of clean white flour

and whole wheat berries onto the earthen floor.

They rake it with their guns.

“We millers have no need for arms,”

Papa says as they poke him

toward the door of our attached house.

They tear Mama’s blankets.

They take our copper bowls.

They dump her food from pots and jars

and tell us, “We will be back tomorrow.

If you do not give us your weapons then,

limp and all, we will arrest you.”

After they leave, Papa sends me to Mustafa

for a weapon to surrender in the morning.

We millers have a need for weapons.


—  —


Day 19, Gerger Mountain


Opening the seams each day

for the food sewn inside by Mama

brings us close to her.

The imagined wrists,

the hem,

the two sides that come together in front,

surrounding me like Mama’s arms.

The seams of the collar like her necklace,

filled with apricot flesh dried

and bitter nuts taken

from inside hard wrinkled pits

together on our roof

last summer.

I let the cracked wheat

from the hem

soften in my mouth

for hours

while we walk

and walk.

I never want to eat that last bite

from Mama.



Photo: Flour Bag by Derek Σωκράτης Finch; licensed under CC BY 2.0
Excerpt copyright © 2014 by Dana Walrath. Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.




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