Cheers and tears for The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

Despite its whopping length and gory topic — the Armenian genocide of 1915 —The Forty Days of Musa Dagh kept me riveted.

And it left me wanting to read the novel again to see what I missed.

Map of locale where Amenian genocide took place.
Map of locale of “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” inside the cover of early hardback editions.

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel

Trans. Geoffrey Dunlop. Modern Library, Random House, 1934. 817 pages. My grade: A.


Gabriel Bagradian comes back to Armenia with his French wife and son. While he waits to be recalled to active duty in the Turkish army, Gabriel revisits his childhood haunts.

Sensing anti-Armenian feeling, Gabriel prepares to move the local population to Musa Dagh and fight from the mountain’s strategic position. He wins over the church leaders who rally the people.

Some 5,000 men, women, and children move to Musa Dagh and dig in, expecting to fight to the death.

The feisty Armenians don’t do so well at preparing to live.

A rainstorm ruins their bread and flour, leaving them nothing to eat but meat.

Jealousies and grievances fester.

Unsupervised teenage boys run wild.

Gabriel saves most of his people at an enormous cost to himself.

Franz Werfel writes formidable page-long paragraphs. Yet despite that, his prose flows, even in translation.

Werfel makes you care about the Armenians.

As a bonus, you’ll get insights into Christian-Islamic issues behind headlines on the evening news.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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