Taleen Voskuni chats learning Armenian proverbs for Sorry, Bro

Sorry Bro gives a heartfelt exploration of identity struggles, complex relationships and Armenian culture

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Sorry, Bro is a queer romcom by debut author Taleen Voskuni that should be the next contemporary classic. Following Armenian American woman Nar who rediscovers her roots and embraces who she really is, Sorry Bro gives a heartfelt exploration of identity struggles, complex relationships with family, and most of all, Armenian culture.

First of all, how did you come up with that title?!

It was actually my spouse who came up with it! We were at dinner and I was explaining the plot of Sorry, Bro (which had only been outlined at that point) and as a joke he suggested it should be called, “Sorry, Bro”. Many people think the title refers to tech bros but that’s not the case. Those who know Armenians know that “bro” is very commonly used, even overused. It is a very Armenian word in English form, and I wanted the title to have Armenian-ness and humor in it, so
it just stuck. Part of me is still surprised I was never asked to change it!

Any new thing you learned about Armenian-Americans from doing research for Sorry, Bro?

I did learn about the proverbs. I wasn’t aware of most of the proverbs prior to writing Sorry, Bro, but purchased two books of Armenian proverbs with translations to include as epigraphs. They’re certainly an interesting look into what Armenian culture holds up as important, what morals and lessons we’ve wanted to pass down. Otherwise, there was not much research to be done because this all came from my lived experience and knowledge of having gone to Armenian school for a decade, plus studying Armenian language and history in college. There was a lot of learning in the years prior to writing the book!

There’s an Armenian proverb in each chapter. How did you pick them? Can you share with us your favourite one?

Yes! First I wrote the whole draft, then I went through the two proverb books I purchased and leisurely read each one, highlighting the proverbs that I thought could fit themes of the book. Then I gathered all those highlights and started matching them to chapters. I had a lot of fun in this process and I’m glad it seems that the proverbs really stand out.

My favorite one is, “A wildflower on the mountaintop would not change places with a rose in the garden.” I love how it speaks to what is worth freedom. You could pretend to “have it all” as a rose, but be forever trapped, or be imperfect and free. Nareh learns throughout the book that she rather be a wildflower.

Nar’s boyfriend sometimes makes fun of her culture because she does it to her own culture all the time (affectionately). Do you think couples from different cultures can poke fun at each other’s culture?

This is tricky, and I think it would have to depend entirely upon what the two cultures are, the historic power dynamics between them, and the type of joke.

While Nar figures out her identity, she also worries about how this would affect her family. Any advice for those who have similar struggles?

It is tough. I think acknowledging how hard it is, that it can be scary, is important. You don’t have to be totally brave. I think depending on the family situation, it sometimes works to go a little at a time. Start with more trusted family members first, or put out feelers, and go from there. But again, every family and personal situation is different. Some people may want to simply dive in and that works for them.

And finally, this year we are trying to recommend readers to expand their reading tastes. Please recommend some books written by Armenian authors / books about Armenian culture.

Ah wonderful to hear it! Three excellent fiction books come to mind:
Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian which jumps between a village in historic Turkey and an Armenian retirement home in LA decades later, and shows how the past can rewrite the future.
The Gimmicks by Chris McCormick, which follows two Armenian cousins through Soviet Armenia, Europe, and America, where one cousin enters the world of American WWF wrestling while the other joins an Armenian extremist organization.
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian, in which an Armenian-American woman attempts to uncover her family’s history, where her American missionary grandmother and Armenian genocide survivor grandfather met in post-war Syria.

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