By Sophie Bridges.
We are thrilled to welcome Taleen Voskuni to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming release Sorry, Bro, out January 31st!
When Nar’s non-Armenian boyfriend gets down on one knee and proposes to her in front of a room full of drunk San Francisco tech boys, she realizes it’s time to find someone who shares her idea of romance.
Enter her mother: armed with plenty of mom-guilt and a spreadsheet of Facebook-stalked Armenian men, she convinces Nar to attend Explore Armenia, a month-long series of events in the city. But it’s not the mom-approved playboy doctor or wealthy engineer who catches her eye—it’s Erebuni, a woman as equally immersed in the witchy arts as she is in preserving Armenian identity. Suddenly, with Erebuni as her wingwoman, the events feel like far less of a chore, and much more of an adventure. Who knew cooking up kuftes together could be so . . . sexy?
Erebuni helps Nar see the beauty of their shared culture and makes her feel understood in a way she never has before. But there’s one teeny problem: Nar’s not exactly out as bisexual. The clock is ticking on Nar’s double life, though—the closing event banquet is coming up, and her entire extended family will be there, along with Erebuni. Her worlds will inevitably collide, but Nar is determined to be brave, determined to claim her happiness: proudly Armenian, proudly bisexual, and proudly herself for the first time in her life.
Hi! Thank you and welcome to The Reading Corner. I’d like to ask how you would like to be addressed, your pronouns and how you would like to be identified on our website.
Thank you so much! I use she/her and you can call me Taleen or Taleen Voskuni.
I’d like to begin by saying how much I loved reading your upcoming book Sorry, Bro. I could really relate to the characters especially Nareh who struggled with an internal battle throughout the book. I loved the way you captured the excitement and anxiety of being in a new relationship and pining for someone. Especially for Nareh who is in a difficult situation regarding her sexuality and how this affects every aspect of her life.
Thank you! It always is great to hear that my characters and the situations they find themselves in are relatable.
One of the main themes of the book is the Armenian Genocide and how it still exists in the Armenian identity today. Nareh struggles with her Armenian identity at the beginning of the book and follows her dad’s love for the ‘American dream’ and often finds it difficult to connect with her Armenian heritage. Is this something that is common within the Armenian community years after the Armenian genocide? And do you think that the lack of education about the genocide plays a part in that?
It is and isn’t common. Here in San Francisco from what I can tell, there isn’t as much this desire and need to assimilate as there is simply outside pressure. Not to have an accent, to speak perfect English, etc. Most Armenians I know are deeply proud of their identity, almost to a fault, and wouldn’t choose to assimilate, but there isn’t much of a choice when schools, businesses, and jobs are in English. You have to fit in to succeed.
There may have been more of a pressure in earlier generations when the racism against Armenians was more overt. For instance, in Fresno, California where there is a huge Armenian community, Armenians were not allowed to own property in certain desirable areas of Fresno as late as the 1970s! Racism like that would of course force folks to assimilate.
I think that might be less about the lack of Armenian genocide education than white Americans simply being terrified of “the other”. I think even with full education of what happened, there would still be pressure to assimilate, unfortunately.
Following on from that, throughout the book the tension between sexuality and heritage is highlighted. Nareh fears being her true self and how the older Armenian community will react to her. There are many examples throughout of inner turmoil such as Nareh’s mother not being able to move on after her husband’s death. What advice would you give to people in situations such as Nareh and her mother?
It’s easy to say “don’t let other people get to you” but the reality is that, well, we do. We rely on our community and our loved ones and it is painful when you’re trapped in a place where you think you might be pushed away from them. My advice is to know that your feelings of worry are valid, and to start by drawing in trusted people. Open up to them, see how it goes. Start small and branch out from there.
Armenian culture is mentioned throughout the book such as in the cooking class. One of the characters, Vache, mentions during the cooking class that Armenian food stands for survival and is a stand against cultural erasure. It is clear that cooking and food are a key part of Armenian culture that is passed down through generations. What is your favourite Armenian dish and did you learn to cook Armenian recipes through your family similar to Nareh?
My favorite meat dish is mentioned heavily in Sorry, Bro: the football kuftes. Deep fried meat on meat perfection. My favorite vegetarian (actually vegan!) dish is sarmas, commonly known as dolmas. I couldn’t help myself, I also featured sarmas in the cooking class in Sorry, Bro! My now passed step-grandmother used to make the best sarmas. I think most Armenians have a memory of an older relative’s cooking that can’t be beat.
I did learn to cook many of these dishes by spending time with my mom in the kitchen and actively asking to learn. As a parent now myself, I realize parents sometimes don’t realize how time is passing by and that their kids haven’t learned to make family dishes by heart. So I remember actually asking my mom to show me step by step how to make sini kufte, for example. And I hope to do the same with my kids!
I loved the chemistry between Nareh and Erebuni and the like-at-first-sight trope, Erebuni plays an important role in helping Nareh to be proud of her heritage. I loved how they were completely obsessed with each other, I have to say my heart dropped during the banquet scene and I could not stop reading. What do you think the future looks like for Nareh and Erebuni?
I am very hopeful about the future for Nareh and Erebuni. They seem like the perfect combination of fire & water, giving the other one the perspective they’re missing. Plus, for Nareh, family approval is huge, and since she’s got that cleared, she’ll feel free to give her best self to her partner without constantly worrying what her family thinks. Yep, they’re going to make it!
Erebuni is very much into spirituality and during the solstice, a conversation between Nareh and Erebuni takes place where Nareh confesses she never wears her natural hair. Considering the beauty standards in America do you see this as another example of women trying to reach an impossible standard? What were you trying to teach readers about identity and self-expression?
Yes, there are impossible beauty standards and Nar has been chasing them much of her life. She tries to fit in with the popular crowd, is an anchor on TV and has to adhere to conventional Western beauty standards. I wanted to show that it’s exhausting. That having her hair, just a part of her body, take up so much of her time and energy is not the way it should be, and that Nar is just starting to see that.
I hope readers take away that embracing parts of your identity don’t magically happen overnight. Usually there are a few a-ha moments, and then slowly you have to break with what you thought was true (in Nar’s case, that she’s only attractive with her straightened hair) and rebuild your mindset with this new truth.
I think many readers will be able to relate to Nareh and her journey to accepting her sexuality, especially in cultures that have not always been welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. Which character from your book do you see yourself in the most? Did you get inspiration for any characters from people you have come across in real life?
I certainly see myself the most in Nareh. On the anxious side (though less and less as I get older), worried about pleasing others (again, less as I get older), hoping her family will still love her even if she disappoints them. Luckily, a lot of that has been solved with time, and I’m confident it would be for Nareh too, especially with Erebuni at her side.
Oh I got lots of inspiration from people I know, but no one in the book is 1:1 someone I know. I pull from real life friends, family, acquaintances, but turn them into their own character. Not naming names though 🙂
I loved reading Sorry, Bro and learning more about Armenian culture, especially the family dynamics where everyone has different identities. Was it your own family that inspired you to write your book? What other influences did you have at the beginning of the writing process?
They absolutely did influence it. My family is very strong, nothing weak about them, and I hope I channelled my love of them into this book.
I knew I wanted to write about my Armenianness for the first time, and what it’s like to embrace your culture. I heard a conversation between Nareh and Erebuni in my head before I even knew who they were, and they were discussing Armenianness. The whole book sprouted from that conversation.
This is your first book and I absolutely loved reading it. Thank you so much for allowing me to read your work! I would love to know if there are any new projects you are working on or if you have any in mind for the future?
There are some new projects! I was lucky enough to get a 2-book deal with Berkley, so there will be another romcom coming in 2024. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say about it yet, but it will be a sapphic Armenian foodie romcom!
Lastly, where can readers find your insightful and heartwarming book Sorry,Bro?
Thank you so much for asking and for your thoughtful questions! Readers can find Sorry, Bro wherever books are sold! Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, Indiebound, and your local bookstores. Happy reading everyone!
Thank you for your time it was a pleasure to read your book and to be able to interview you!
Thank you again Sophie!!
Taleen Voskuni resides in San Francisco with her spouse, a normal human man, and her toddler, a dictator of chaos with the face of an angel. She is the founder and principal researcher of a UX Research consulting firm. She’s been published in Cleaver Magazine, The Bold Italic, Mic, and Cal Literature & Arts Magazine. Her debut novel, SORRY, BRO is set to be published in Spring 2023 by Berkley – Penguin Books.
Taleen’s Instagram: @taleenauthor
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