Artsvi Shahbazyan

Novelist Artsvi Shahbazyan Bridges Cultures, Creates Worlds

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YEREVAN / SAMARA, Russia — Russian poet and writer Artsvi Shahbazyan was born in 1992 in Kirovakan (now Vanadzor, Armenia), to an athlete and a reserve officer. In 2000, his family moved to Samara, Russia. As a teenager, Artsvi went in for sports, won the ninth open All-Russian boxing tournament among youngsters. As a teenager, he participated in literary competitions and repeatedly won places of honor.

Artsvi graduated from the Nayanov Samara State Regional Academy, Faculty of Philosophy. In 2008, his first collection of poems was published.

Shahbazyan is the author of a number of journalistic and philosophical articles, including “Contrasting Evil to the best of the Worlds of G. W. Leibniz,” which was included in the annual publication of the Samara State Regional Academy. His first novel, The Apotheosis of Fate, was published in 2020. Artsvi teaches history and prepares his new novel for publication, and is already working on a third book in the genre of modern prose.

Artsvi, Umberto Eco’s definition of a historical novel, which singled out three varieties of this genre. In my opinion, The Apotheosis of Fate refers to his third definition — to novels where figures familiar from popular encyclopedias are not necessarily brought to the stage. The action in your novel takes place not in Russia, Armenia, or other countries close to you, but in Germany, and in the 16th century, when, as the hero says, “A certain Luther made a big fuss.” But we can assume that history is just background for you, and the very development of faith, the spiritual self-awareness of a person, are much more important.

Answering the first question, I can’t help but pay tribute to Umberto Eco, from whom I learned the most difficult thing: maintaining a single style in the complex context of the historical novel. If we take the analysis seriously, we can see in the novel The Apotheosis of Fate the second definition of Professor Eco, where fictional intrigue develops against the background of quasi-historical details, and the heroes act “according to universal motives,” as well as the third one, where the actions of the heroes could only be committed in the historical period described.

If I said that the era has nothing to do with it, and the most important thing is the internal elements that the main characters must fight, then this would be a mistake on my part. The historical novel by its very nature has a complex structure, in which it is necessary to consider the main idea (theme) of the book in all its political, socio-cultural and religious completeness. Nevertheless, people have always been people: they fought with their weaknesses, fears and persistently rushed towards the light.

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The inspiration for your debut novel (which, by the way, I read in one sitting) was the Bible. In the afterword, you write that the Bible “is the greatest of all books, capable of accommodating the entire Universe” and further: “In it Someone called God will be revealed to you.” As a Christian, philosopher, and writer, what was the need for you in our troubled times to turn to biblical realities?

The Bible will never lose its relevance, because the world has not yet come up with such problems for people that cannot be answered in the Holy Scriptures. Any book, in my opinion, should be useful beyond what we call aesthetic pleasure. Nowadays, people are reveling more and more in entertainment, and every year everything old ceases to amaze, but eternal truths will outlive all who ridicule them. Troubled times do not scare you when you know that God himself is on your side.

As the hero of your novel says: “Sometimes it seems that we Christians suffer more than we live.” This is especially close for us, Christians of the East, now facing new challenges and trials. But I think in the 21st century Christianity needs to be re-evaluated around the world. One cannot but agree with the words of your hero Fabian: “We have lost the true faith…. We failed Him… We killed Him, and now we carry the crucifix around our necks, heavy under the burden of sin.”

Suffering is an integral part of our life, and this cannot be denied. Even at birth, the child already suffers when he comes into the world. Then, growing up, by the sweat of his brow he earns a piece of bread. Isn’t that suffering? And what about diseases? Wars? The only difference is that the believer knows why he is suffering. Christianity needs to be re-evaluated, that’s right. We can drive supercars, dress fashionably, or move to live on Mars, but it’s worth considering that the soul will move there with us. It will also excite and disturb the hearts, as it did in primitive society, in the Middle Ages, in New and Modern times. Humanity has an extremely difficult fate, but there are movements only in two directions: from darkness to light, or vice versa. The choice is given to everyone.

 

Have you noticed that what is happening between your characters — the Christian preacher Edwin Neumann and the cruel pagan Melvin Geller, is very reminiscent of the story between Gregory the Illuminator and King Trdat?

Our spiritual forefathers, as Christian pioneers, were tormented and killed. The martyrdom of the Armenians of pagan times is like a blossoming garden: this is Saint Sandukht, Sukias, and the holy virgin Hripsime. The adoption of Christianity by Armenia in 301 was of great importance, much more important than what is described in my book. As for the novel, its characters Edwin Neumann, Fabian Sarto and Melvin Geller are fictional, but help to see three different roads to repentance. Yes, of course, there are many similarities between the history of the adoption of Christianity in Armenia and the awakening of the pagan city of Finsterwalde, only the scale is different.

 

And the conversations of Edwin and Fabian somehow reminded me of the conversations of Pontius Pilate and Yeshua from Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita. And in general, what else inspires you besides the Bible?

The Master and Margarita impresses me with its high-profile story. I believe that the conversations between Edwin and Fabian do not have the degree of provocativeness that Bulgakov’s novel has, and can be painlessly instilled in even the most conservative Christians. I am inspired by many people, many phenomena, things and moments of life. If you are inspired by one thing, then you will have to absorb it from a meager supply. The world is huge, and the people around are so different. There is always food for thought and there is always something to write about. Before taking on a manuscript, I listen to the classics, filled with meaning; I read several books at the same time, absorbing all the best; I drink strong coffee: in writing it is my old “ally.”

 

You wrote on your blog that there are many references and symbols hidden in the novel that cannot be seen by superficial reading. Is it worth analyzing symbols at all? After all, they say that by such an analysis you “kill” a symbol.

I would like to make it clear that I am not advising my readers to arm themselves with dictionaries of semiotics or delve into exegesis. My main goal was only to hint that I take a responsible approach to writing texts, and what at first glance seems like a banal may hide a real revelation.

 

The hero of your novel says: “Childhood gives you endless possibilities, and how you spend it depends on how you get along with fate in the future.” What was your childhood like?

Until 2000, I lived in Armenia, in the city of Kirovakan (now Vanadzor). We have a large ancestral home there, divided into three sections, where three families lived. The heads of the families were three brothers: Hamlet, Zhora and my father Hrayr. The house was built on a rocky slope, and the construction was started by my grandfather. I lived in this house until I was 7 years old. We had a large yard where I, my older brothers and friends spent a lot of time. A sloping staircase led down from the yard to a cherry orchard, and right next to it, a thick trunk of an apricot tree rose directly from the cliff. Its fruits hung just in the yard, next to the gazebo, and you could easily pick them. I remember my childhood in Armenia as being in paradise, probably because the problems of adults were still completely unknown to me. Now I know that those were the hungry post-war years. Of this, I remember only one detail: I was not allowed to go out with a piece of bread, so as not to be stared at by neighborhood children.

Then we moved to Russia, where I went to first grade. A few months later, I got used to the Russian mentality, made friends and spent my childhood in a new environment as interesting as it was in Armenia.

Have you ever wanted to write a novel about Armenia? I think that the philosophical generalization and interpretation of what it means to be an Armenian is always relevant, about which Movses Khorenatsi wrote back in the 5th century, the topic was touched upon by other major Armenian writers as well.

I will write a big book about Armenia. Most likely it will be in my old age, when, perhaps, I will be able to penetrate, feel into the nature of my origin, understand personally and be able to convey at least a small grain of the value and beauty that the Armenian soul hides. At the moment, I am still too young and not enlightened enough to take on such a responsibility at the beginning of the writing journey.

 

In your afterword, you refer to the books as “amazing people.” About your hero you say: “Nothing has pleased him so much for a long time as an interlocutor, from whom there is plenty of both sense and use.” Your book has become such an interlocutor for me. I wish you to reveal as many amazing books-humans as possible for yourself and for readers.

Good books become our real friends, we can turn to them for advice, we can rely on them in difficult moments of life. They are not able to replace people, but with the help of books we can be sure that the rich heritage of human knowledge, experience and wisdom will be passed on to the next generations. In this way, we can keep the faith that our children will bypass the paths of temptation and walk uncomplainingly on a difficult, thorny, but sure path.

Thank you for these interesting questions! Most of them surprised me. Taking this opportunity, I want to say that a new book will be published soon, where events unfold in modern Italy. I am full of hope that this novel will win the hearts of many readers. I hug everyone tightly and with trembling love convey warm greetings to my sunny Armenia and my compatriots worldwide.

 

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