Between the Stillness and the Grove

Publisher: Vintage Canada
The triumphs of love and friendship after tragedy are at the heart of this compelling and poignant novel of two complex and unforgettable women. A story of loss set in the aftermath of the 1915—1918 genocide of the Armenian people by the Turkish government, the novel moves through layers of time to show the far-reaching effects of war and displacement. Evolving partly in the mountainous landscape of Armenia and partly in the clear light and healing waters of Portugal, Erika de Vasconcelos’s magnificent and heartrending second novel explores the redemptive qualities of friendship and reminds us of the power of art and love.

In the late 1980s, during the last years of Communism in Soviet-controlled Armenia, Dzovig meets her lover Tomas at a nationalist march. Tomas is a patriot, obsessed with the ruined churches that testify to the country’s glorious past before the horrors of the twentieth century. When he later takes his own life with a gun, his reasons are a mystery to his parents and his lover. Numbed and fearless, Dzovig uses sex to buy her way out of the country she hates. She lives first in Moscow, then finds refuge in Portugal. Working for a kind restaurant owner in Lisbon, she learns Portuguese and meets Tito, a wealthy young man with a muscle-wasting disease. Through Tito she discovers the poet Fernando Pessoa and his celebration of the human ability to fashion multiple lives. Tito leads Dzovig part of the way out of her pain, yet wherever she goes, she cannot leave Armenia behind.

A tragic past, one that goes back to her own childhood, also haunts Vecihe, Tomas’s warm and caring mother. While Dzovig tries to flee her past, Vecihe has so far managed to keep the memories at bay through silence. She searches for Dzovig, yearning to connect, all the while struggling with her son’s death, the estrangement within her marriage, and her unspoken thoughts and knowledge. Agonizing truths keep seeping through, however, and her recollections become progressively deeper and darker until she is at last forced to confront the devastating memory of her mother’s account of the death march to Syria. Finally, changed and starting anew, Vecihe finds a haven in Canada. When she offers sanctuary to Dzovig, she reminds the young woman whom she thinks of as a daughter that “our worst pain comes out of silence.”

Told with the beautiful language and a striking sensitivity, Between the Stillness and the Grove is a major work of fiction that proves Erika de Vasconcelos an exceptionally talented and original writer. Whereas her first novel, My Darling Dead Ones, drew on personal experience and family history, here the author explores new territory. To research the book she spent ten days in Armenia and read transcripts of conversations with Armenians who survived the 1915 massacre, as well as accounts by Holocaust survivors. Many of the elderly Armenians she interviewed had never before spoken about their experience, about the anger and fear that had remained hidden inside them throughout their adult lives.



There is the sea. Dzovig is staring at it. She does this often in the early hours of the morning, makes her way to the wall at the edge of the beach, determined, like an addict seeking out her drug. And the sea is never very far in this country: Portugal, a thin strip of land stretching along the Atlantic,...
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“Erika de Vasconcelos’s new novel, Between the Stillness and the Grove, [is] a poignant saga of love and loss…Avoiding romantic flamboyance, de Vasconcelos focuses on the worst pain that comes out of silence…[a] warm-hearted book…highly readable.” —The Globe and Mail

“It is extremely well-researched and thought provoking…It is a passionate and graphic tale of hunger, prostitution and survival…Dzovig and Vecihe have travelled far and carry the reader along with them on a journey, which will be of interest to those familiar with Armenian history and will stimulate others to find out more about this fascinating part of the world.” —Winnipeg Free Press

Between the Stillness and the Grove is, like de Vasconcelos’ first novel, wonderfully written…it is… eloquent and sincerely felt…de Vasconcelos…is an exceptionally talented and original writer.” —London Free Press

“Beautiful and cathartic.... It is de Vasconcelos's skill at weaving a deeply personal story into this dense, contested political terrain that makes the book so stirring.” —Toronto Life

“Throughout, the warmth, the generosity and weary wisdom of Vecihe’s first-person confessional narration envelops the reader, the flow of her memories intimate and laden with emotion and sensual detail.” —The Toronto Star

“A delicately written book about a very grave theme.… The narrative is constructed with time shifts, as the characters and the reader learn for themselves what the past has been hiding.… Erika de Vasconcelos has a gift for beautiful language and for describing the significant detail.… Her writing is lyrical and even tender.” —Uptown Magazine, Winnipeg

“Her writing on the subject of Vecihe’s past and present life is warm and achingly real.… The brutalities she turns her pen to are convincingly rendered with an understanding of human frailty.” —Quill & Quire

“De Vasconcelos describes war and the crimes of Communism with a stunning combination of ferocity and intimacy.… [An] ardent, idiosyncratic book.” —The Edmonton Journal

“Compelling on the first read, enriching on the second, begging a third, a fourth.… Identity, dislocation, death.… The novel seems to spiral ever deeper into itself, bits and pieces of Dzovig’s past, and Tomas’s, and their mothers’, and their grandmothers’ released like trapped pockets of noxious gas.… The characterization is as rich as the writing.” —The Gazette (Montreal)

Review Quotes for My Darling Dead Ones

“Stunning.... de Vasconcelos has created some of the strongest and most complex female characters in contemporary Canadian fiction.” —The Globe and Mail

“What is especially wonderful about My Darling Dead Ones is the abundance of life teeming through its pages: The Portuguese landscape of hilly, yellow-stuccoed houses is palpable; Magdelena's flat in Lisbon invites exploration of its quaint clutter; one sniffs the fresh scent of earth as Leninha creates a back room of hostas and calla lilies in her suburban Montreal garden. [Here] is a complex and sumptuous world.... There is much comfort and delight in My Darling Dead Ones.” —Quill & Quire

"Like Spanish writer Federico García Lorca and Irish playwright John Millington Synge, de Vasconcelos understands the deep-rooted relationship between soil and soul.... the power women wield, its tenacity and passion.... She makes the commonplace dance, while a wordless sensuality bubbles beneath the surface, waiting to erupt.” —The Financial Post

"De Vasconcelos has a lush and tantalizing way with a story: she foreshadows and backtracks, building up tension, then replaying events after the fact in the mind.” —The Gazette (Montreal)

"[My Darling Dead Ones] has the intense and urgent cadence of a whispered confidence, and de Vasconcelos’s flair for economical description is particularly potent in evoking the sights, sounds and smells of Portugal.” —NOW (Toronto)

“Fresh…surprising…wonderful. These characters are honest, vivid and compelling.” —The Edmonton Journal