Nancy Agabian, the author of “Princess Freak” (2000), and “Me as Her Again: True Stories of an Armenian Daughter” (2008), returns with PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction finalist, “The Fear of Large and Small Nations,” to be released in May.
In “The Fear of Large and Small Nations,” feminist writer and teacher Natalee—aka Na—flees the conservative fearmongering of George W. Bush’s America in favor of reclaiming her cultural roots in post-Soviet Armenia. As she contends with rigid gender roles and rampant homophobia, learning the language when her linguistic roots in the Ottoman Empire have all but disappeared, and centering her identity as a bisexual Armenian American woman amid her own secret desire for love, Na is soon left with more questions than answers about where her fractured self belongs in the world.
When she falls for Seyran, a much-younger bisexual punk rocker who seems to value her for who she is, it comes as a relief: in a culture where marriage is seen as a source of protection for women, Na has the satisfaction of subverting societal expectations by shielding Seyran from conscription and, after marrying and moving to New York together, deportation. But when Seyran reveals an abusive side, Na realizes she is trapped in a dangerous codependent web, complicated by intergenerational trauma, political ideals, and, above all, love. To leave him, she will have to choose herself—whoever that is.
Written in gripping short stories interspersed with intimate journal entries and blog posts, the fragmented narrative reveals what is lost in the tightrope journey between cultures ravaged by violence and colonialism—and what is gained when one woman seizes control of her story, pulsating in its many shades and realities, daring to be witnessed.
“In this epic feminist-misadventure story, a bisexual woman returns to her twice-estranged homeland determined to find belonging. Alongside a mosaic of artists, intellectuals, and students facing restrictive gender politics, she sifts through her own traumatic history of genocide and survival, bears witness to post-Soviet echoes, all the while navigating the vulnerable borders that exist between nations and individuals. This riveting, multilayered novel will make you laugh, cry, rage, and in the end, hold it tenderly against your heart,” said Catherine Kapphahn, author of “Immigrant Daughter: Stories You Never Told Me.”
“To read Nancy Agabian’s ‘The Fear of Large and Small Nations’ is to experience a masterful storyteller in the process of chiseling one’s hardened stereotypes, assumptions, and meager traditions—sometimes patiently—but oftentimes with the unrelenting bang of the pulverizing pen. Just like the ancient stone carvers of the Armenian highlands, Agabian’s courageous voice clears the settling dust of despair, gives us ample room to contemplate, satiates us with hope, and ultimately empowers us to see,” said Shahé Mankerian, author of “The History of Forgetfulness.”
“Exhilarating and harrowing in turn, ‘The Fear of Large and Small Nations’ uses the backdrop of Armenian politics, culture, and history to explore the joy and perils of travel, marriage, and identity while queer. I found myself fascinated by the inventiveness of the storytelling and deeply moved by this unique story,” said Meera Nair, author of “Video: Stories.”
“Much like her beloved Armenia wedged between other countries, Na is caught in a tug-of-war between the weight of what’s owed and the acts we perform to survive. Transplanted where language, sex, and oppression collide, Na’s ear, plastered close to the ground of the female soul, exposes intimate rooms where few dare to go, where women ponder or claw, ascend or stumble along. A vanguard feminist-humorist, honest, unflinchingly brave, Nancy has written a new book that is a salve for us all,” said Pam Ward, author of “Between Good Men & No Man at All.”
Nancy Agabian is a writer, teacher, and literary organizer, working in the spaces between race, ethnicity, cultural identity, feminism and queer identity. Her previous books include “Me as her again: True Stories of an Armenian Daughter,” a memoir honored as a Lambda Literary Award finalist for LGBT Nonfiction and shortlisted for a William Saroyan International Writing Prize, and “Princess Freak,” a collection of poetry and performance art texts. In 2021 she was awarded Lambda Literary Foundation’s Jeanne Cόrdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction. “The Fear of Large and Small Nations” is her first novel. Learn more about Agabian here.
Get a chance to meet Agabian in September at Literary Lights, a monthly reading series run by the International Armenian Literary Alliance, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research, and the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center.