Longlisted in the 2020 PEN /Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, sponsored by PEN America.
The compelling life story of Armenian ceramicist David Ohannessian, whose work changed the face of Jerusalem—and a granddaughter's search for his legacy.
Along the cobbled streets and golden walls of Jerusalem, brilliantly glazed tiles catch the light and beckon the eye. These colorful wares—known as Armenian ceramics—are iconic features of the Holy City. Silently, these works of ceramic art—art that also graces homes and museums around the world—represent a riveting story of resilience and survival: In the final years of the Ottoman Empire, as hundreds of thousands of Armenians were forcibly marched to their deaths, one man carried the secrets of this age-old art with him into exile toward the Syrian desert.
Feast of Ashes tells the story of David Ohannessian, the renowned ceramicist who in 1919 founded the art of Armenian pottery in Jerusalem, where his work and that of his followers is now celebrated as a local treasure. Ohannessian's life encompassed some of the most tumultuous upheavals of the modern Middle East. Born in an isolated Anatolian mountain village, he witnessed the rise of violent nationalism in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, endured arrest and deportation in the Armenian Genocide, founded a new ceramics tradition in Jerusalem under the British Mandate, and spent his final years, uprooted, in Cairo and Beirut.
Ohannessian's life story is revealed by his granddaughter Sato Moughalian, weaving together family narratives with newly unearthed archival findings. Witnessing her personal quest for the man she never met, we come to understand a universal story of migration, survival, and hope.
About the author
Sato Moughalian is an award-winning flutist in New York City and Artistic Director of Perspectives Ensemble, founded in 1993 to explore and contextualize works of composers and visual artists. Since 2007, Ms. Moughalian has also traveled to Turkey, England, Israel, Palestine, and France to uncover the traces of her grandfather's life and work, has published articles, and gives talks on the genesis of Jerusalem's Armenian ceramic art.
"Feast of Ashes is a passionate journey of discovery, an exemplary work of craft and design history, and a powerful narrative of the meaning of family identity. An extraordinary book—I loved it."
—Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes and The White Road
"Feast of Ashes is a lovingly crafted account of family, loss, and home. Chronicling the last century's unresolved tragedies and injustices on a most personal level, Sato Moughalian forces us to acknowledge what these events have truly cost us all—a necessary insistence, if we ever hope to be free of the grievous mistakes we too oft repeat."
—Alia Malek, author of The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria
"Feast of Ashes is an exceptional story of Armenian artisanship and one of its luminaries, David Ohannessian. As told by his granddaughter, Sato Moughalian, the tumultuous events at the end of the Ottoman Empire and the lasting legacy of Armenian ceramics unfold through her family history."
—Dickran Kouymjian, author of The Arts of Armenia
"A hundred years after David Ohannessian brought the art of Armenian ceramics to Jerusalem, his creations still glint from the walls of buildings and in cabinets there—and still testify to his singular talents, his mastery of a time-honored tradition, and his admirably stubborn belief in the possibility that beauty might emerge even out of terrible suffering. With love, care, and an attention to detail as exacting as his own, Sato Moughalian offers a moving tribute to her grandfather and his radiant handiwork."
—Adina Hoffman, author of Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City
"Sato Moughalian embarks on a sweeping journey from the Armenian Genocide to the present day to tell the story of how her grandfather became a master ceramist. Feast of Ashes is a compelling, brilliant work, revealing how one survivor of that infamous crime honored Armenian culture and created glorious art."
—David Scheffer, former U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues, author of All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals
"Sato Moughalian is a born storyteller. Her account of the remarkable life of her grandfather, the Armenian ceramicist and tile-maker David Ohannessian, should be read by artists, by historians of the Middle East and, above all, by anyone sensitive to the power of the human spirit to make great art in the face of persecution, migration, and exile."
—Tanya Harrod, coeditor of The Journal of Modern Craft
"More than merely a tribute to the talents of her grandfather, Moughalian's book is a work of alchemy—combining the personal, tragic history writ large, and the somehow uplifting power of enduring art."
—Elizabeth Taylor, National Book Review
"Moughalian has crafted a narrative that is as lyrical as it is compelling. She relates the tragedy and triumph of Ohannessian's personal adventures with a compassion and intimacy matched by impressive research into the broader historical context."
—Matthew Kalman, The Times of Israel