By Kay Mouradian
Who is Barbra? And what is the significance of this girl…or woman?
Within the first few pages I learn she is Barbra Streisand, the famed American singer and the writer is a 9-year-old Armenian boy, Adam Terzian, who lives in Beirut. He is in constant fear that the falling bombs from the 1975 civil war will maim him or maybe even kill him like his young neighbor who died when one of those bombs exploded and burst his school bus into little pieces. In his first letter to Barbra, Adam asks her, “Can you stop the war before I die?” Writing to Barbra and listening to Barbra’s music becomes Adam’s escape from that horrific time.
Adam’s father decides they must leave war-torn Beirut. He has relatives in America, but American visas take time, and four years later Adam finds himself in Fresno, California. He has difficulty adjusting to his new world. He tells Barbra he misses his father still in Beirut selling the family business and arrives in Fresno two years later. Finally! But the trauma of the war affects Adam’s outlook for the rest of his life.
The story line follows Adam from Beirut to Fresno, to USC, to Hollywood, Armenia and the Middle East as he becomes a film director and a journalist. Adam loves words and loves the magic of writing, but the trauma from his young Beirut life never leaves him.
By the time he enters USC, every world tragedy affects him as if it were his own and he asks WHY? Then, in Armenia for his first time, the pain of the Armenian genocide overwhelms him and he reflects on the huge loss of Armenian humankind and the loss of the country of Western Armenia. His own Armenian grandparents had been forced from their homeland, never to see it again. Adam keeps his pain inside, but always “talks” to Barbra as he pens words onto paper – his therapeutic release.
Adam writes about individuals with whom he works, increasingly frustrated that every one of his colleagues, and himself as well, are trying to find their voice and identity. All around him, hopes and dreams are beyond reach.
“Is this all there is?” Adam asks. “Is it meaningless?” he asks Barbra.
It is here the reader has an opportunity for self-reflection…to follow the chase for fame or power as each of the story’s characters’ road to success is dimmed. Not finding “success” their hearts heavy yet empty, they tend to berate themselves and never find contentment.
At first I enjoyed Chaderjian’s writing style with his double-spaced short paragraphs, but as the author introduces characters as Adam travels the world, the reader can become easily confused because time frames skip from today to far-away yesterdays, and even into the future. Characters are everywhere and anywhere, and it takes a lot of concentration to know where or when, and whose point of view is speaking.
Letters to Barbra is a story about how early trauma affects one’s life. I would like to have seen more written about how war affects children like Adam. Maybe even written as a children’s story…to understand how lives are traumatized even after the bombings stop. I have been told that children whose lives are terrorized in war never understand that hope and fulfilling dreams are a possibility. I would love to know if there is a study substantiating that theory.
I think of my mother, who survived the Armenian genocide as a young girl. That shadow of pain never left her until she was in her 80s. But that is another story.
Kay Mouradian EdD, author and filmmaker of My Mother’s Voice is currently a consultant for A Journey of Angeles, a play based on her mother’s survival from the Armenian genocide.