It’s a historical memoir with a pitching in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Saints of Zara is an enlightening story that delivers a gripping account and ...

by Isabel-Rose Kulski

Book Review

“Great Knowledge, Highly-Informative!”


It’s a historical memoir with a pitching in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Saints of Zara is an enlightening story that delivers a gripping account and perspective on the Armenian community and their immigration to the U.S. after a war breaks out in their homeland due to the upheaval of the Ottoman government. The war led to the separation of families, family members' deaths, and young children being orphans. The story travels through the difficult years of growing up to realize the pressure and struggle faced by the poor Armenian families. It has a good sense of plot as well as the emotional arc that invites a reader into the life of a character. It evolves on the anguish, pain, struggle, and hard-working the families had to endure for their survival. It is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story with a superb flow of events, each with a different twist. The author bravely narrates every ordeal her family goes through with such prowess and freshness. The incidents of the story are wholly absorbing. The author, Isabel Rose Kukski, has compressed a lifetime of study and exploration, bringing out a masterwork. The Saints of Zara are compulsively readable and effortlessly scintillating, which combines a broad overview with many illustrations and observations making it impressive. It is accurate in its general outlines, critical and lucid.


This is a gem that is enriched with the spirit that everyone needs to hear. The author takes us on her physical and emotional journey. The Saints of Zara, evolves around the life of a young man, Nishan Manoog, who has a nomadic childhood. When barely a year old, his mother dies leaving them under the care of his Gurin grandmother, a religious woman of the Armenian Church. Unfortunately for Nishan, problems are his daily bread. His grandmother’s death, leaving him homeless and destitute. Left with no choice, he looks for a job at least to get food and a roof over his head. Nishan's childhood displays the condition where his new lifestyle becomes a reality in the world we are in as orphans no longer taken good care of. People fail to remember that they are children who need love and affection like other children. Being an orphan does not make you a lesser human being. This theme of suffering, which has implications far beyond the effects of child labor and mistreatment, is skillfully brought out by the author’s story, giving the reader the full scope of the story. When Nishan turned nineteen, an upheaval in the Ottoman Empire brought about violence and lawlessness that ravaged the whole country. This forces them to run for their dear lives as many get killed. The 1895 turmoil shook the whole of Turkey. It led to the destruction of property as houses were burnt to ashes. The heartache behind the ordeal is the infinite numbers of people that lost their lives and their loved ones. This period encompasses the broken, ruined remnants of a shattered Zara, Turkey, and the destruction enacted. After some years, Turkey was economically and politically restored, a remarkable resurrection and transformation, but she had already lost many people. Nishan decides to travel to Zara, where his dad’s relatives are located. During the hard times, we all need our families beside us; it's just the norm. Having your family and relatives at your side is something everyone yearns for.


The Armenian's culture is built on friendship, a pretty powerful brotherhood. Two clans, the Sherinians, and the Kezerians, were bound together. They were not supposed to marry a close relative, which is also not allowed in today's lifestyles. Whether they married by choice or an arranged marriage by their relatives for lack of alternative, the Sherinians and Kezerians managed to weave an intricate martial tapestry. This led to the continuation of their generations, so they maintained close ties. As it is expected, the close ties were broken once they were transplanted in America. The theme of change is depicted and embraced as the relationship meshed together in Zara. After further assessment of how life was in Zara, Nishan decides to migrate to America. Their conversion the Mormon, Church was the main reason for the migration to Utah. The missionaries warmly welcome them. They convert and learn a new religion, a haven for them to cling to, not forgetting a new language since they are not in their native homes. They had to take time before getting used to the new environment, which was very different from their lives in Zara.

Nishan Manoug Gagian felt bad living his relatives in Zara, but at times we have to let go of what we love most and follow our dreams. It's hard, but that was the right choice for Nishan. As the author Isabel-Rose Kukski puts it, there is glory in being the first in a new country; there is an inspiration and hard work in subduing the desert, breaking the soil for the first time. It makes one feel welcome in a foreign land and have the courage to try something new without fear and giving it a try. This provides a wise reflection of how we should venture into different ideas other than the ones we are used to. Life is not as easy as we expected for Nishan Gagian in the Salt Lake Valley; fortunately, he got a well-paying job at the mines. Later on, an explosion occurs, and he gets hurt, making him limp for six years. Isabel – Rose Kukski has accurately portrayed the hardships these immigrants suffered and how they suffered in silence with no one. The mining had diverse effects on the health of Utah’s workers. The flue dust in the big smelter furnaces caused lung disease, eventually leading to death. Some are permanently maimed, and people will only see a reflection of their preconceived ideas of what they are and deny their individuality.

Parents and guardians age with time, and it gets to the point that they can hardly take care of themselves or complete a task independently. So, the young ones are left with no choice but to care for their aging parents. Ms. Kukski is a perfect example of how she took care of her aging and ailing father and mother till their last breath. The theme of love and care is portrayed in the book through her actions and her eternal love for her parents. It angered and tore her apart that her parents were separated but made sure that she served them well. Her generosity and commitment to forbearance and resolve brought transformation in her parents’ lives. After her dad fell sick, she ensured that he got the best treatment during those times. The same applied to her mother until they buried her. I found Ms. Kukski's character to be very stimulating. A woman who puts the joy and well-being of her parents before hers. The role of the family is played in the development of The Saints of Zara.

Every account is clearly illustrated. The events chronologically follow each other, photos of places, people, and events. The images are fascinating as they also have the dates when they were taken with age, for example, the Saints of Zara members of the Mormon Church 1901. This made the book enjoyable to read. There are photos almost in every chapter. Some of the images taken are Nishan’s Zara relatives, the general view of Zara, and a page from Nishan’s brief memoir. The author also has used excerpts from Nishan's journal to show how they made a new life in Utah. This makes the author’s work unique and exceptional in so many ways. This is a significant strength in the book as the reader relates to the following of the event.

The Saints of Zara story has fascinating discussions about Virginia trees and Utah trees, how they should be taken good care of by pruning, watering, and mulching. The vineyards were also kept in order, as each season they were expected to produce. This made my love for nature increase; the environment and our surroundings should always look alive and vibrant, giving us a sense of belonging. Working in the vineyards keeps your mind busy, hence it is not easy for boredom or loneliness to consume you.

The author's visit to Zara in the early 1960s is interesting to read about the piece. Isabel – Rose Kukski’s visit is heart-wrenching and enlightening. As she embarked on this fateful journey, she was sure of the only thing that what she was looking for and what she would find are dark voids in mind. Going back to Zara, her ancestral home was a brilliant decision. For the first time in many years, she felt that the people there were family too, which gave her a sense of belonging and peace of mind. Ms. Kulski depicts a woman who is bound to her heritage. However, she knew that the indigenous Armenian’s were becoming extinct; she wanted to connect with the few that had remained and share whatever little she had with them, portraying an act of kindness and generosity. She ensured that they remained in contact as they sent her letters of gratitude due to her concern for them. When she left Zara for home, her heart was at peace. For home is where the heart is. As she vows to be happy with no tears of remembrance of her past, as she was not ready to let her sad memories take charge.

Though Ms. Kukski’s early life has been uneventful, she narrated it to us honestly, with every detail taken into account. She has not left any part of their family life unturned. For the Saints of Zara is about family and origin. With a lot of situations that we can easily relate to and some of which we have experienced. The book also covers divorce in the early 1900s and the relationships between various immigrants’ groups in Utah as some marry each other; others take care of fellow Armenians and, importantly, go to Church together as religion was a common interest to the Saints. Eventually, they settle down in America, and it became their second home, which was safe for them, as the place had adequate food, and security compared to their native home in Zara. Their immigration to the U.S. ensured that the Armenians co-existed peacefully. This is a historical account to be read and narrated to many generations to come, whether Armenians or not.


The Saints of Zara's depicts the effects of wars on our lives. War changes our usual activities as it destroys us physically, emotionally, and mentally. It forces us to immigrate to places filled with a lot of worldly uncertainties, as we are not sure whether we will fit in or not. It erodes our culture as we get mixed up with people from different backgrounds with their own cultures. What I have learned all through is that family should always stand at your side during struggles and always be there for you. Ms. Kukski's life throughout the book, is surrounded by her loved ones in good and bad times throughout her life experiences. She does not have stains of self-pity or angry resentment although she faces troubles and challenges. The author closes various chapters with memorable lessons, each prudent with effective responses, which leads the reader to finally accepting and acknowledging the reality. The Saints Zara's story is one of a kind. I feel intrigued to have read it. It touches on all phases of life with positive responses to the situations at hand. If you are a fan of historical books, this is all what you need. I highly recommend it!

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