A look at the watch – eight twenty nine, one minute to go - now was the time, no, now IS the time … I am ready…
…I remember I was five when the first bomb was dropped. The childhood memories are strange - there is no real continuity to your recollections; instead you tend to remember separate scenes and situations in great detail. I was in the elementary school and we were about to have lunch at the cafeteria. It was just like any other morning.
It was early spring and I remember I was glad to be rid of the heavy winter clothes which I detested deeply. The kids around me seemed to share my mood with big, sometimes partially toothless smiles all around. The school staff was also there - they were not smiling.
All the adults had gathered by the TV on the wall. Usually, during lunchtime, they would turn on a cartoon channel - not recently. Recently, it was all about angry looking people in suits and military uniforms saying something very important. The text at the bottom of the screen was filled with complicated words and phrases which didn’t tell me much but scared the grownups badly – “impending doom”, “breaking news”, “nuclear apocalypse”, “breaking news”, “full retaliation to the aggressor”, “breaking news” “direct negotiation failure”, “breaking news”, “full alert”, “breaking news”, “nuclear shelter preparation”, “breaking news”… I was reading these phrases with a kind of fascination - they sounded so cool, so serious, so… adult.
I remember reading them on TV back home, then going to the mirror and repeating them with the same concentrated grave expression as the people on TV. At first it made my parents laugh but lately, they did not find it all that amusing. My mother even yelled at me and sent me off to my room the last time I looked at her seriously and said – “nuclear solution appears unavoidable”…
…The walls of the school cafeteria were painted light green with drawings of the students hanging here and there. I looked at the drawing I made - a smiling little guy crouched under the table giving a big thumbs-up. I also drew a nuclear explosion mushroom in the window behind him. I made that drawing during our 3B class – Be prepared! Be safe! Be happy! The teacher really liked it, squeezed my cheek and said – that’s the
spirit, little citizen! I was so proud of myself…
…The dishes were stacked up on the cafeteria tables and the kids were queuing for their slice of pizza (woo-hoo!) and the mandatory apple juice (not so cool at all). Finally, it was my turn.
As I was preparing to take my dish I was stopped by the sound of the siren. It was coming from everywhere and nowhere, it was so loud that it shook you from the
inside. I tried to cover my ears but my hands wouldn’t move.
Around me, I could see the children running and screaming. The adults looked pale and scared. Still gathered by the TV, they were looking, hypnotized, at the red dot moving across the map – the words at the bottom of the screen read – “nuclear launch detected”. The siren whined on as I stood motionless near the plates and in that whine I started to recognize an old song my father really liked.
It was called “Sympathy for the Devil” and was by an ancient band called the Rolling Stones. I smiled remembering how my father would take out the worn out disk with the song and play it in his study.
Suddenly, there was a new sound – an abrupt thud. The plates started to shake - the floor under my feet was moving (it sort of felt nice, like sailing on a ship, like sailing on the Orpheus). The adults finally snapped out of their hypnosis and I saw Ms. Kendall running towards me and I could hear the children crying and the sound of the siren was everywhere and nowhere and my father’s favorite song was playing joyfully inside it (please allow me to introduce myself) and the windows of the cafeteria started to fly out (the broken glass looked so captivating with the morning sun reflected in the tiny pieces as if frozen in mid air ) and through the windows I could see a cloud - it looked just like the mushroom in my drawing, slowly growing on the horizon. It was so beautiful - I was mesmerized.
All of a sudden I was grabbed and lifted from the ground. I looked up and saw Ms. Kendall’s green eyes (I was secretly in love with her just as all the boys in my class). She was crying. That made me sad and I started to cry too. She was saying something but I
couldn’t hear her – only the song playing in my head (I’m a man of wealth and taste) - I did not like it all that much anymore… In a second we were out of the cafeteria and in the corridor. Looking back from Ms. Kendall’s shoulder I could see people running (stole many man’s soul and fate) in the same direction as we were – downstairs.
The last thing I remember from that morning and my last day on the surface was the big door (pleased to meet you) with a yellow and black radiation sign on it (I recognized it from the 3B class and was instantly very proud of myself). The door slowly opened and Ms. Kendall carried me in. Inside, there was only darkness (hope you guessed my name). I wanted to go back for one last look at the nice mushroom shaped cloud.
But as the door closed shut behind us, I knew, I could not go back…
Q & A with Vardan Partamyan
How did you come up with this topic? What inspired you to write about it? Is it related to any true events? Or real people?
The theme of the novel is basically a tribute to my affection to science fiction and dystopian genres but the core of the story is the very real and personal experience of what it was like growing up in a country that was at war, of what it was like being a child in a place where childhood seemed to have died.
The scene where the plates are shaking on the table was from my own experience when in 1988 there was a devastating earthquake in Armenia that left half of the country basically leveled to the ground. I was in the kindergarten when the strongest quake happened and that image of shaking plates is still very fresh in my mind. Concerning the reality of the persons in the novel – Ms. Kendall, Suzannah, Bars as well as Nad Raven himself are based on real people.
Why did you decide to write from a 5 year old's perspective, instead of an adult’s? Was it difficult to write in that perspective?
The story takes place in the period of about 22 years. The flashbacks tell us the story of the community that is formed in the underground shelter and the events that basically lead up to the climax of the story, which happens in real time.
Why did you choose to write in the first person?
My choice of writing in first person is to ensure maximum immersion into the character of the protagonist for the story equally concerns the world outside Nad as well as his inner perspectives that are very subjective and also affect the narrating view of the actual events. Thus, if the story was written from, for example, Suzannah’s point of view you would have a very different view of events and behaviors, which, perhaps, would not be very flattering to Nad.
How were you able to imitate what a child might thinking during this situation?
It’s not really an imitation – it is more of a recall, once again based on my experience during the war and the natural disaster that hit Armenia.
How long did it take you to write this novel?
I wrote this novel in about a month, then left it alone for another month before going on with the editing and a final polish that took something like a week to complete. The last chapter of the novel was changed in that process basically altering the entire flow of the story so these kinds of breaks really help in clearing your own perspective and viewing the story not as an author but as a reader.
How/why did you decide to incorporate the Rolling Stones lyrics?
There is a certain duality in the character of Nad Raven as well as in all the protagonists of the literary universe I am creating. This duality is a sort of balance between good and evil and the perception that the line that separates these two is often blurred or non-existent. I think that Sympathy for the Devil really illustrates this notion and is weaved throughout the story until we reach the climax and really see it from a different perspective.
Did you have to do any research for this novel?
I did research on the nuclear shelters and some of the more outlandish ideas that abounded during the peak of the Cold War to be able to pass on that gnawing feeling of dread and paranoia offset by the eerily cheerful propaganda.
Where can we find this book?
The book is available on Amazon. You can get it here: http://www.amazon.com/After-Life-Odyssey-ebook/dp/B00AYUOCAA/ref=la_B00AZVMQAQ_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1383725060&sr=1-2