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Posted August 5, 2010
A young man discovers his heritage and the terrible tragedy Turkey wants everyone to forget
In Black Dog of Fate, Peter Balakian describes his life growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey and slowly discovering the horrible event that his family tries to protect him from: the Armenian genocide conducted by the Turkish government of 1915.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
The memoir relates many of the adolescent experiences that American readers are familiar with: high school football, teenage rebellion, girlfriends, etc. However, Balakian also describes the rich Armenian cultural heritage he grew up with, particularly the language and the cuisine of his people.
In college, Balakian became aware of the massacre that his grandparents and parents had escaped from before coming to America and struggles to understand why this important event in the history of his people was never spoken of amongst his immediate and extended family.
This book is a great read for anyone who is interested in learning about Armenian culture or simply in reading about the lives of Armenians who managed to assimilate in American society while retaining most of their cultural heritage. More importantly, this book is a great starting point for learning about the Armenian genocide and the subsequent denial by the Turkish government that it ever occurred. Balakian's memoir deserves a place next to the witness testimonies of the Holocaust and other state-sponsored mass murders; the purpose of a book like this is to make sure that genocide is never forgotten.
[This review also appears on FingerFlow.com, a site for review and discussion of creative works.]
Posted November 11, 2009
A chilling remembrance
Being part Armenian, I am very familiar with what was one of the saddest events in modern history. My maternal great-grandparents escaped Turkey in 1896; according to one of their sons, my great-grandfather dressed as a woman because the Turks were not allowing men to leave the country.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Still, Peter Balakian's journey into his family's past brought the horrors of those events into even more intense focus. His book reminds us of the ever-present capacity for human cruelty, which has been sadly often repeated since.
Posted March 24, 2009
A story about growing up, love and awakening. But most of all, this is a story that is shared by three generations of Armenians. A grandmother telling mysterious stories to her grandson, who gradually unravels the hidden and awful truth.
I read this book ten years ago when it was published for the first time. I recently purchased the newly published version, which includes two additional chapters. I began to read and I felt as if I am reading it for the first time. Peter Balakian is an awesome writer. He tells the story in such a manner that helps the reader visualize every scene on every page.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
This is a story of one woman's survival from the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and her subsequent triumph as a mother and grandmother. This woman is Balakian's grandmother and through her we learn much more about Peter's life in the 1960s. In fact, we learn much more than that. We learn the story of thousands of Armenians whose parents and grandparents survived the tragic horrors of the Genocide. We have lived this story in its variations of multitude. Those who survived the Genocide as young adults, small children of every age, orphans, women, etc. told of the same horrors experienced in the Armenian homeland of 1915 and the following years in the Syrian desert of Der Zor. This wasteland became the graveyard of thousands of people who were forced to march, who were tortured and raped, and starved to death. We all know the story, and Balakian tells it poignantly.
This is a highly recommended book. I wish one day to see the movie version and as a selection on Oprah's bookclub. I also recommend it as reading and research material for high school and college students.
Thank you prof. Balakian for the new edition and for your tribute to the fallen at Der Zor.
Posted January 25, 2001
Confession of an Inheritor of Trauma
When I began reading this book, I expected something historical and political in an objective sense. As I read through this book, my expectation was shattered. As a political analysis, this book is a poor one. This book is more about psychology than history, which is more touching to me. As a son of immigrants from Armenia the author describes how he grew up and how his grandmother(a survivor of Armenian Genocide in 1915)'s trauma influenced him. It looks like that he had received contradictory signals from his parents. On the one hand, his parents did not want him to know about Genocide which was too much for a young child. On the other hand, his father snubbed him for his ignorance of the Genocide though he never taught his son about it. Hence his confusion and hatred. He must have felt excluded from family. When he was a child he went to a football stadium with his father who was a physician. There he saw a small bald man who collapsed in the path of a passing football player's spikes. His father dropped a program and ran to the severely wounded man and did everything to save his life. During this process the author could do nothing but hold the program his father slipped. I know what this means. He must have felt guilty. Mysteriously or understandably, his guilty feeling seems to have been imposed on the program. Years later when the brochures for private schools arrived his house, the brochures must have triggered something in his brain. After that he behaved like a stray sheep. After he became an adult, he came to learn his family's history and the history of Genocide. And he, as a poet, participated in the political campaign against Turkish government's denial campaign. He shows how the Turkish government corrupted Princeton University in an effort to deny the Genocide. This book, however, does not look like a political propaganda. Rather it looks like a confession to heal his own soul.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.