Form and Content
Michael J. Arlen’s Exiles is a biographical memoir focusing on his life as the son of novelist Michael Arlen and his wife, Atalanta. Opening with the months leading up to Arlen’s father’s death from cancer, the book skips back and forth through the lives of Arlen and his parents, presenting his mother’s and father’s families, their early lives, their meeting and marriage, and his own childhood years in Europe and the United States.
Arlen’s father was born Dikran Kouyoumdjian, the son of Armenian parents who had fled to England at the time of the Turkish massacres. Young Dikran was born in Bulgaria while the family was en route to England. He grew up in Liverpool, the youngest of several brothers and the only member of his family to choose the arts over business as a career. In 1919 he changed his name to Michael Arlen on his publisher’s recommendation and published his first book, The London Venture, a collection of witty sketches chronicling the experiences of a young Armenian attempting to make his way in London. In the years that followed, Arlen achieved international success as a writer, capturing in books such as May Fair (1925) and The Green Hat (1924) the style, brittle wit, and sense of ennui that characterized fashionable London society in the 1920’s.
In 1928, Arlen wed the beautiful Atalanta Mercati, the daughter of a Greek count and his American wife. Throughout the 1930’s, the...
(The entire section is 506 words.)