He was a volunteer on the Caucasian front during World War I and served as bodyguard, translator and secretary to General Andranik Ozanian, about whom he wrote memoirs that were published in 1920. In Tbilisi Totovents edited the newspaper "Hayastan", General Andranik's official organ.
Since 1922 he lived in Yerevan, Soviet Armenia. In 1937 he fell victim to Stalinism. A prolific and multifaceted writer, Vahan Totovents (1889–1937) had an equal facility for writing poems in prose and verse, short stories, novellas, novels, critical and biographical works, comedies, dramas, translations from Shakespeare, and a widely read and admired autobiographical work titled Life on the Old Roman Road. Writes Rupen Zartarian in his reminiscences of Totovents: "He wrote fast. He had no trouble finding the right word. His sentences flowed with ease. He didn't try to achieve perfection, only spontaneity. He had something to say and he said it. He was never idle. A born writer and a reporter by training, he never waited for inspiration. And since his urge to write came from deep within and was irresistible, sentences and paragraphs followed one another with phenomenal speed."
Totovents was born in Mezre, a small town on the Euphrates in the province of Kharpert, where he studied under such masters of Armenian prose as Tlgadintsi and Rupen Zartarian. In his youth he traveled extensively in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he fought as a volunteer in the Caucasus during World War I. "I wanted to see my country liberated," he writes in his autobiographical sketch. "I saw instead its total destruction, and torrents of my countrymen's blood. I saw human suffering of such depth that there can be nothing deeper in this world. I saw nights gorged with blood. I saw men crazed by hunger; I saw bloodthirsty mobs attacking innocent men, women, and children, and I heard the howls of their terrified victims." Another two years (1920–22) of wandering followed - Istanbul, Paris, New York, whence he returned to Yerevan and where, in addition to over a dozen books, he published countless essays and articles in newspapers and periodicals. Criticized for failing to produce works with "proletarian" content, Totovents refused to conform and was eventually arrested and exiled to Siberia. Very little is known about his last years. Sarepig Manoogian, his official biographer, simply informs us that Totovents "died at the height of his creative powers leaving behind many unfinished projects..."
From Ara Baliozian's "The Armenians: Their History & Culture"
The works of Totovents were published from 1907. He is the author of Doctor Burbonian (1918), Death battalion (1923), New York (1927), Baku (v. 1-3, 1930–34), Jonathan, Son of Jeremiah novels, stories and dramas. He influenced to Armenian literature especially by his Life on the Old Roman Road autobiographical novel (1930, A piece of sky film by Henrik Malian) which "reflect the society, culture, and mores not only of the Armenians of his childhood but also of their neighbors in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire".
His works were translated into Russian, English, French, Bulgarian and Turkish.
- Scenes from an Armenian Childhood, 1962, NY: Oxford University Press, 182 p.,
- Tell Me, Bella (a Selection of Stories), 1972, 127 p., ISBN 0-903039-06-0,
- Jonathan, Son of Jeremiah (Mashtots paperbacks), 1985, 68 p., ISBN 0-903039-16-8,
- Pigeon Fancier, 1994, 66 p., ISBN 0-903039-18-4.
- Vahan Totovents (1893-1938) Présentation de ses mémoires sur le Général Antranik (in French)
- Totovents at Amazon.com