Check It Out: A salute to Armenian heritage

California is home to one of the largest Armenian populations in the world, from the fertile farmlands of the Central Valley to Southern California. The Armenian Genocide and subsequent diaspora affect the community's sense of identity and perseverance to this day, since these tumultuous events are still recent history to many Armenians.

Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as the state religion, with the Armenian Apostolic Church serving as the religious and cultural focus of the people. Woven into this shared history is the love of storytelling, food and family.

William Saroyan remains the most celebrated author chronicling the Armenian-American experience in the Central Valley. "My Name Is Aram," a work of fiction, presents the story of a young boy exploring his Armenian identity and heritage amid the farms of Fresno.

The Central Valley drew Armenian immigrants because of agricultural conditions that are similar their homeland, and his many other works explore the immigrant and first-generation experience of his people.

"Apples of Immortality: Folk Tales of Armenia," by Leon Surmelian, contains classic stories of Armenian ingenuity, logic and ethos. The text is rich in religious symbolism and tales of morality that reveal the deep faith of the people.

On DVD, explore the life and times of one of Armenia's most celebrated figures. "The Color of Pomegranates" presents a stylized biography of noted 18th-century Armenian poet and troubadour Sayat Nova, based on his writings. It depicts the poet's life in eight sections, from childhood to death, and is rich with symbols of sacred and secular Armenian life.

Celebrated local chef Zov Karamardian continues to draw large, enthusiastic audiences to the library's "What's Cooking" events, and she will return in the fall for another cooking demonstration. Her Armenian-inspired recipes are perfect for home cooks wanting to learn her techniques. Check out "Simply Zov: Rustic Classics with a Mediterranean Twist" and "Zov: Recipes and Memories from the Heart."

"The Armenian Table: More than 165 Treasured Recipes that Bring Together Ancient Flavors and 21st-Century Style," by Victoria Jenanyan Wise, and "The Cuisine of Armenia," by Sonia Uvezian, present classic Armenian food interwoven with family traditions.

Vartan Gregorian, a decorated Armenian academic who emigrated to the United States to attend Stanford University, most famously restored the venerable New York Public Library to a cultural landmark. "The Road to Home: My Life and Times" chronicles his many successes and endeavors.

"Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-Long Struggle for Justice," by Michael Bobelian, presents a well-documented, harrowing examination of the effects of war and diaspora on the Armenian people, including the challenges and politics facing immigrants to the United States.

"An Armenian Sketchbook," by Vasily Grossman, is an enthralling travel narrative set in Armenia in 1962. Grossman's impressions of the ancient churches, welcoming people and stunning landscape take the reader to a faraway place.

"The Crossing Place: A Journey among the Armenians," by Philip Marsden, is part travel essay, part history lesson. It explores the effect of the genocide and Soviet rule in the region.

"Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir," by Peter Balakian, recounts the duality of growing up American in suburban New Jersey in the 1960s with the haunting family secrets of the genocide looming in his home life. He deftly presents the normalcy of riding bicycles with his friends and attending school with the foods of Armenia packed in his lunchbox.

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

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