Neighborhood baseball games stretching into the evening, rock music blaring from a transistor radio, arguing with the parents over excessive phone usage – Peter Balakian’s memoir reflects a generation growing up in the suburbs of 1960s’ America. But as he matures and begins to uncover the history of his Armenian family, Balakian’s familiar voice draws us into the atrocities his beloved grandmother Nafina undoubtedly suffered in her homeland. Balakian deftly brings to life the horror of the Ottoman Empire’s brutal policies of Armenian genocide in 1915 and 1916 - during which 1 ˝ million innocent men, women and children were killed.
This 10th-anniversary edition of Black Dog of Fate includes two powerful new chapters about Balakian’s visit to the region of his ancestors, land that is now part of Lebanon and Syria. The author walks down the streets of Aleppo and stands in front of the very house where his grandmother and his two young aunts regrouped from their enforced death march and began their efforts to journey to the States. The added chapters close the narrative circle, bringing the story of Balakian’s family back to the present day, as well as providing a global perspective to the tragedy.
A winner of the Pen/Albrand Award, Black Dog of Fate works on a purely literary level as well. Balakian, who started out writing poetry for his grandmother’s memorial service, is a talented wordsmith.
“I’ve come to see poetry as the chain of language linking lands and events,
people and places that make up our family story.”
Balakian is currently a professor of Humanities at Colgate University and the author of June-tree: New and Selected Poems, 1974-2000 and The Burning Tigris.
Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir has become required reading for numerous college history and ethics courses and has been influential in bringing attention to the Armenian genocide, challenging Turkish denials. Reading Balakian’s book not only reveals the prejudice faced by Armenians in the early 1900s but also drives home the heartbreaking meaning of his title, as explained in an excerpt from Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story (Henry Morgenthau Sr. was the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire):
“The common term applied by the Turk to the Christian is ‘dog,’
and in his [the Turk’s] estimation this is no mere rhetorical figure;
he actually looks upon his European neighbors as far less worthy
of consideration than his own domestic animals…”
In fact, it was Morgenthau’s stirring historical account and a wrenching conversation with his aunts that drove Balakian to piece together his family’s past. As Balakian’s father once wrote to him at college, “Books are the most powerful things in the world.”
And Black Dog of Fate is certainly one of the finest examples of the power of the written word to advance understanding.