Review: Snails Against the Tide

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By Aram Arkun
Mirror-Spectator Staff
Snails Against the Tide: Selected Writings of Jack Antreassian. Edited by Elise Antreassian, Bayside, NY: Ashod Press, 2010, 197 pp.

Jack Antreassian (1920-2009) was an important leader and intellectual of the American-Armenian community in the second half of the 20th century. He passed away last year, and as a way of perpetuating his memory, his daughter, Elise Antreassian Bayizian, selected samples from his essays, poetry and translations to be published as an anthology. Good friends of her father sponsored the volume.

Jack Antreassian was born in Constantinople but received his schooling in America. He held leadership positions in a variety of Armenian-American organizations, serving at different times as director of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America and editor of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator and Ararat. These were heady days, during which the newly prosperous Armenian-American community was expanding the scope of its institutions. New programs and activities were being innovated.

Antreassian, because of his love of literature and poetry, was particularly involved in promoting cultural programs. The Armenian earthquake in 1988 pulled Antreassian back from retirement to oversee relief efforts at the Diocese.

During all those years in executive positions, Antreassian did not abandon literature. He established Ararat Press, and then years later Ashod Press (resurrected in order to publish the present volume). He played a major role in creating the Anahid Literary Award to recognize the achievements of English-language Armenian-American writers in 1989. Parallel to his work in the community, Antreassian wrote social criticism, often in the form of satire. He also strove to make a number of 19th- and 20th-century Western Armenian writers (including some important satirists) known to English-language readers through translation.

The present volume includes examples of his published work, as well as one previously unpublished poem. Excerpts from the novels of Yervant Odian, the plays of Hagop Baronian, the short stories of Krikor Zohrab and the stories and novels of Antranig Antreassian, Jack’s older brother, are presented in vivid and readable English. The lessons Jack Antreassian drew from his experience as a public servant are made available in his essays. He wrote in a  straightforward and accessible style and did not shy away from bluntly criticizing institutions like the Diocese or the AGBU, despite his close connections to them. Selfishness, short-sightedness, obtuseness, arrogance, vindictiveness, prejudice, all are here, nourished by inertia and indifference.

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The title of this volume, taken from a poem of his, sums up his point of view. Despite all the problems of the Armenian-Americans, “we move like snails against the tide/ because I guess we are satisfied…we are less than our false view/ but more far more than what we do.” Antreassian’s observations about the fatuities of community life, and the excruciating slowness of reaction or response to injustice and immorality, often still ring true. Our public figures as well as ordinary Armenian-Americans can benefit from reading this book, if only they are inclined to question existing orthodoxies.

At the wish of the benefactor and the Antreassian family, Snails Against the Tide has been distributed to colleagues, close friends and family. If anyone is interested in Antreassian’s work and would like a complimentary copy, they can contact Elise Antreassian at elisejane320@aol.com.

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