Eleos, a Book of Trials and Secrets
"Bell masterfully combines his mystery story with an unflinching look at the 20th century's bleakest tragedies. A beautiful . . . challengingly complex tale of the ramifications of history." -- Kirkus Reviews
"Eleos offers no easy answers, no pat approaches. Perhaps this is the novel's greatest challenge to its readers, as well as its finest attribute. D. R. Bell crafts a set of circumstances that involve the protagonist in a sifting of blame, historical examination, and family attitudes, drawing in readers with a scenario that at first seems relatively black and white; then immersing them in decisions and outcomes that are satisfyingly complex." -- Diane Donovan, Donovan's Literary Services; Editor, California Bookwatch
The discovery of a valise of old letters written to his Armenian grandfather from an Auschwitz survivor starts Avi Arutiyan on an odyssey to uncover the mystery surrounding his grandfather’s unsolved death. From the killing fields of Anatolia to the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Avi’s quest opens a door into intersecting paths and dark secrets of three families, stretching back to 1915.
Every book is a journey, not only for the reader but also for the writer. The original premise for what became Eleos was called “The Journey”: a story of a German soldier saving a Jewish boy during the war and the two of them trying to make their way to safety. It was a tale of redemption – and who doesn’t like stories of redemption, especially with a happy end? But as I was sketching the plot, other themes intruded. There was a personal angle: my late Armenian grandmother-in-law was the only member of her family to survive the slaughter of 1915 and I had felt for many years that there was a connection between the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. This led to a bigger question: how do people turn against others in a genocidal rage? Because throughout history the horror repeats time and again. My conclusion was that we choose to forget something important: we know the facts of “what” happened, we don’t remember “how” it happened.
We tend to view the past events through the opposing poles of heroes vs. pathological evildoers and create happy endings where most of the intended victims survive. Even The Diary of Anne Frank ends on a positive note. But the truth is much, much worse than that. These were not simple conflicts of good vs. evil. Most of the perpetrators and enablers of genocides were not sadists or psychopaths but regular people like you and me. They had killed – or stood by – not out of visceral hatred but because of blind obedience to authority, false patriotism, career prospects, etc. The slide into genocide was rarely sudden but was preceded by a long period of gradual dehumanization of “the other.” The worst atrocities were committed under the guise of doing good, in the name of ideology, religion, or national status.
That’s why remembering the “how” is important: so we can recognize the patterns in the present. At any point in time history is existential: we, human beings, are presented with a particular context, and we must choose amongst the possibilities within it. Without passing a judgment on those who lived during such terrible times, we can – we must - learn from the choices they had made.
Because Eleos tries to address many difficult topics within its structure, it’s designed kaleidoscopically, shifting the narrative between different characters with their viewpoints and objectives. The main characters have their faults and troubling secrets, forced to make ugly compromises in order to survive. I readily admit that the story is complex and challenging for the reader and not recommended for someone who prefers a linear plot and more agreeable characters. I have considered simplifying the story but decided against it: I felt that I couldn’t do it without losing something important along the way.
While the characters of the story are fictional, most of the events described took place.
Only too often strategic interests had been placed above human rights and the perpetrators went virtually unpunished
There was no legal justice for 1.5 milllion Armenians massacred in Turkey during WW-I. The only justice came at the hands of extra-judicial avengers.
The 1947 Nuremberg trial of the leaders of Einsatzgruppen responsible for 2 million murders. 20 out of 24 defendants were free men by 1958.
The 1963-65 Frankfurt Auschwitz trial of 22 defendants. Light sentences all around. E.g., Hans Stark poured Zyklon-B into gas chambers. For that he served 3 years.
Two million were massacred in Cambodian killing fields in the 1970's. It took over thirty years to put the Khmer Rouge leaders on trial.