by Adam Bagdasarian
Grade Level: Ninth to Twelfth Grade
Brutally vivid, Adam Bagdasarian’s Forgotten Fire is based on the experiences of his great-uncle during the Armenian Holocaust. The abhorrent events of the genocide that Bagdasarian describes are almost unbearable, yet his style of writing is such that one can manage to read through this astonishing description of one of the worst human rights catastrophes in human history.
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