Forced to watch his father escorted out of their lives by Turkish police, his brothers shot to death in their backyard, his grandmother murdered by a rock-wielding guard, and his sister take poison rather than be raped by soldiers, 12-year-old Vahan Kendarian abruptly begins to learn what his father meant when he used to say, "This is how steel is made. Steel is made strong by fire." Up until 1915, Vahan has lived a cosseted life as the son of a wealthy and respected Armenian man. But overnight his world is destroyed when the triumvirate of Turkish leaders, Enver Pasha, Talaat Bey, and Djemal Pasha, begins the systematic massacre of nearly three-quarters of the Armenian population of Turkey, 1.5 million men, women, and children. Soon Vahan is an orphan on the run, surviving by begging, pretending to be deaf and mute, dressing as a girl, hiding out in basements and outhouses, and even living for a time with the Horseshoer of Baskale, a Turkish governor known for nailing horseshoes to the feet of his Armenian victims. Time and again, the terrified and desperate boy grows close to someone--and loses him or her to an appalling, violent death. Through three years of unspeakable horror, Vahan is made stronger by this fire, and by perseverance, fate, or sheer luck, he survives long enough to escape to the safe haven of Constantinople.
Brutally vivid, Adam Bagdasarian's Forgotten Fire is based on the experiences of his great-uncle during the Armenian Holocaust. The absolutely relentless series of vile events is almost unbearable, but the quiet elegance of Bagdasarian's writing makes this a novel of truth and beauty. Parental guidance is strongly suggested for younger readers of this extraordinary, heartbreaking account. (Ages 14 and older) --Emilie Coulter
From Publishers Weekly
Drawing on his own great-uncle's experiences, Bagdasarian covers the years 1915-1918 when a boy from a wealthy, well-respected family from Bitlis, Turkey, is stripped of everything simply because he is Armenian. Told from an adult perspective through flashbacks, Vahan's narrative covers a harrowing journey beginning with his father's disappearance and, within a week or so, what he describes as the "last day my childhood" at age 12: Turkish gendarmes execute his two older brothers and force the rest of the familyDa brother, two sisters and motherDto walk for days without food or water. Upon his mother's urging, Vahan and his last surviving brother, Sisak, escape one night in the woods, and throughout the rest of the novel he experiences and witnesses unspeakable violence. The prose is often graceful (e.g., loneliness "simply comes, sits in the center of the heart where it cannot be overlooked, and abides") and the events are as gripping as they are horrifying. But unlike Anita Lobel's remarkable WWII memoir No Pretty Pictures, told from the perspective of a child who does not quite grasp what's happening around her, the narrative here maintains an adult sensibility. This point of view both distances readers from Vahan's emotions and makes the events disturbing for even the more mature adolescent readers (Vahan's sister commits suicide in front of him rather than risk rape by a Turk; he himself is sexually molested; he witnesses the rape of a 10-year-old girl). While this is an important history, it may be better suited to sophisticated teens and adults. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)
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