Black dog of fate : a memoir

by Peter Balakian

Hardcover, 1997




New York : Basic Books, 1997.


In this tenth anniversary edition of his award-winning memoir, New York Times bestselling author Peter Balakian has expanded his compelling story about growing up in the baby-boom suburbs of the '50s and '60s and coming to understand what happened to his family in the first genocide of the twentieth century--the Ottoman Turkish government's extermination of more than one million Armenians in 1915. In this new edition, Balakian continues his exploration of the Armenian Genocide with new chapters about his journey to Aleppo and his trip to the Der Zor desert of Syria in his pursuit of his grandmother's life, bringing us closer to the twentieth century's first genocide.

User reviews

LibraryThing member megacoupe
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.

The memoir relates many of the adolescent
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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.
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LibraryThing member toitle
Peter Balakian gives an account of the Armenian Genocide from the memories of his grandmother as well as other survivors he has encountered. Within this story, he also searches for his own sense of identity within his family and his heritage.

I read this in a course called "Literature of the
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Holocausts," a course that changed my life forever. It is one of the best books I read as an undergrad and I encourage everyone to read it.
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LibraryThing member audramelissa
From 1914-23, the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey, carried out the systematic state-organized policy of physical annihilation of its indigenous Greek and Armenian civilian populations. I was aware of some of the history of the Armenian genocide from my familiarity of the Greek
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genocide as a descendant of Asia Minor (on my maternal grandmother’s side)—but this does not make a book like Black Dog of Fate easy to get through and I struggled to finish it. It is not only about the atrocities committed at the hands of the Turkish government-- but it is also a beautiful book about discovering one’s heritage. Not an easy read but an important one.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Published in 1997, this book is Peter Balakian’s memoir of his time growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s-1970. It relates how he eventually traced his family’s tragic stories that occurred during the Armenian genocide in Turkey in 1915. He grew up mostly unaware of his family’s experiences.
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His older relatives had been reluctant to discuss the past, believing young people should be shielded from these harsh realities, and Balakian had only some hints that unsettled him. He eventually read a book about the massacre of Armenians in Turkey, written by the American Ambassador to the Ottomon Empire, Henry Morgenthau. He also obtained family legal documents that shed light on what had happened to his ancestors.

The first half of the book is focused on the author’s early interactions with his grandmother. They live in suburban neighborhood, and bond over a shared love of baseball. She tells him stories, one of which is a parable about the titular black dog, and says, “Appearances are deceiving. The world is not what you think.” Balakian selects episodes that illustrate his family’s preservation of the Armenian culture.

There are a number of literary references in this work – Armenian authors and artists – as well as Armenian cuisine and religion. He confronts genocide deniers. He links the Armenian genocide to what happened later in Nazi Germany and addresses the dangers of nationalistic thinking – an issue we still deal with today.

It is beautifully written. Balakian is a distinguished poet, and it shows in his writing. A few poems relating to his heritage are included. I was expecting that the author would have travelled to the region, but if he did, it is not part of this memoir.
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