There are few writers who are at once extraordinarily powerful and yet somehow also not well known beyond the scope of a few wise readers. Hovannes Toumanian is among these. A poet born more than 150 years ago, living in Tsarist Armenia – it is said he only once left his native land, and then only to answer to the Tsar in St. Petersburg for the charge of “anti-Tsarist writing”. Toumanian is from Lori, a province in the high north of Armenia, beautiful and cold and wild – forested with hills and rivers and dotted with the ancient monasteries that attest to the heritage of that land.
Toumanian is a beautiful writer. I stumbled across one of his books in a used bookstore in one of the old lands; “Selected Works”, full of charming poetry and short stories that could be taken from the Brothers Grimm; replete with wisdom and understanding and the morals of people who before have lived closer to the land, and with that the fate which comes from mistakes more existential because the doer lives closer to nature and has no cushion to protect him from error.
The book is an English language copy, translated and printed by Progress Publishers, Moscow in the USSR during the silent days of communism. That the communists would translate an extraordinary Armenian poet into English and publish his “Short Stories” will have to be put down as one of the great mysteries which I will never understand. But it does go to show you, great writing – great literature stays and finds a way. How else could a wayward wanderer from Africa, an erstwhile writer and also himself a King of Lost Places have found this lost treasure; and had I not, how would you who are reading me come to learn that such an extraordinary man was born, lived and died in the ancient silent forests of the Caucuses. And that even as he did, he also left us with something timeless and beautiful that has lived on long after he has left us.