By Daphne Abeel
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
BOSTON — The publication on April 24 of a new, expanded and complete translation of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel demands recognition as a major literary and cultural event. It is an historic irony, given the dialectic between the Holocaust and the Genocide, that it fell to an Austrian Jew, Werfel, to write the iconic novel of the Armenian Genocide — many of those Armenian writers and intellectuals who might have penned it having been slaughtered on April 24,1915.
Nineteen thirty-three, the date of its first publication in Austria, is of significance, given that this was the year that Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party solidified their grip on the Third Reich. The book, first issued by Paul Zsolnay Verlag in Vienna, although read in Nazi Germany, was eventually banned and burned there but that first German edition achieved major international attention and was snapped up at the time of its publication, particularly in Austria and Switzerland. It brought an immediate focus on the events of the Armenian Genocide, which had, hitherto, received scant attention from the international community.
In 1934, Viking Publishers issued an abbreviated version of the novel in an English translation by Geoffrey Dunlop. It immediately became a bestseller in the United States and was picked up for distribution by Book-of-the Month-Club, where it remained one of their most popular titles for decades after its original publication. It was offered as an alternate selection as recently as the 1970s.
David Godine, well known in the publishing world for his interest in the production of books of high quality, described in a recent interview how he happened to acquire the rights to Werfel’s work.