How long is the shadow of genocide? How does it affect the offspring of the survivors? And
how do survivors and their families retain a belief in justice when atrocities go unpunished?
These questions are addressed in Jerry M. Burger’s novel, The Shadows of 1915. The story
takes place in Central California in 1953, where Armenian immigrants and their families live
one generation removed from the 1915 murder of more than a million Armenians at the hands
of the Turkish government. An encounter between the sons of a genocide survivor and some
Turkish college students forces each of the main characters to make difficult decisions that pit
loyalty to family and community against personal and legal standards of right and wrong. It is
a story about a displaced group of people and the consequences of real historic events that
have rarely been examined in fiction. It is also a story about culture, family, recovery from
tragedy, and the nature of justice.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ten days ago, I intended to begin reading Jerry Burger’s THE SHADOWS OF 1915 (Golden Antelope Press, 2019), but I got busy and distracted and didn’t end up opening it until last night. Then, I had to force myself to put it down and get some sleep. When I awoke this morning, the characters were already on my mind. So, I picked up the book again and read to the end. Captivated not only by the characters and narrative but also by Burger’s experimentations with time and space, I couldn’t put down this novel until I’d finished it. I loved how the moments that occur in distant times and places become entangled in complicated and meaningful ways; for example, an Armenian woman’s survival of a devastating loss in 1915, a young man’s actions in Korea during WWII, and the arrival of unexpected and unwanted guests at an Armenian picnic in 1953 Fresno, California, become layered in meaning as they diffract through one another. This novel made me think deeply about the ways that we are always more than ourselves, as our own lives get wrapped up with our ancestors’ experiences and with the lives of other people, both the ones we inadvertently encounter and those with whom we choose to interact. As I read, the universe within the novel seemed to contract and expand. Life and death conflated with the protagonist’s perception of people who are no longer living and divided with the frenetic pace of modernity, time lost significance and was critically defined through both love and violence, and the distinctiveness of place blurred in the face of Armenian-Turkish conflict and sharpened through individual characters’ memories and experiences. The novel ends in only partial resolution, which is somehow satisfying, because anything more would have been a break from the authenticity that drives it, as it explores the truth about people and how they deal with the emotions that emerge from their experiences. Of course, Jerry Burger is a well-known social psychologist, so his shrewd understanding of what motivates people to act as they do is not surprising. Often, the truth behind these motivations is painful and, as the novel shows, does not result in justice. But a willingness to admit the truth can at least offer the implication of forward movement. Indeed, trauma cannot, and perhaps should not, be forgotten, but the characters that allow trauma to overshadow their lives risk losing their futures. Burger’s novel is a beautiful and compelling story of emotional and experiential negotiation. My first reading was compulsive, as the narrative pushed me to keep going. Now, I look forward to re-reading at a slower pace so that I can savor the history, the culture, and the feelings that pulled me in so powerfully on my first reading. I would recommend this novel for anyone 18 or over, but prospective readers might want to be aware that this novel does include a few scenes that portray physical and sexual assault.
Burger is a masterful storyteller in his debut novel, "The Shadows of 1915," an apt title hinting that past events can loom over people for generations, in this case, the lasting impact of the Armenian genocide in 1915 on descendants in Fresno, CA in 1953. I was hooked in the opening pages. The story of Tarvez and Vartouhi was so touching that I couldn't put the book down until I knew the full story.