Title: Forgotten Fire
Author: Adam Bagdasarian
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley
Synopsis: Vahan Kenderian, the son of a wealthy and influential Armenian, never expected his life to be anything less than it had been for his first twelve years: one of privilege and happy times, with his father a stabilizing force; his mother, a doting parent who indulged him; and his many siblings, playmates who provided a never-ending amount of camaraderie and amusement. However, due to the changing political climate in his homeland of Turkey during World War I, Vahan embarks on a journey that can only be described as a nightmare: his father disappears, two of his brothers are shot in the presence of him and his remaining family, his grandmother is murdered by a Turkish soldier, one of his sisters commits suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Turks, and he and his next older brother are forced to abandon their mother and only living sister to avoid the fate of their father and brothers. All of this happens within a two or three day span at the beginning of the novel. What follows is a heart-wrenching account of one boy’s personal experience during the Aremenian holocaust. Vahan is forced to beg, become the servant for a Turkish governor known for his brutality towards Armenians, and masquerade as a deaf mute boy and live among the Turks. He finally finds love and contentment in the home of an Armenian doctor, only to have the promise of the future stripped away through the death of the girl he loves and the woman who became like a mother to him. Through it all, Vahan survives and learns to have, as his father had always admonished him, “steel inside [him] that made it possible for [him] to get out of that bed and pretend [he] was [himself],” despite all he experienced and suffered.
My Thoughts: This is one of those books you don’t forget. I actually read this book for the first time about five years ago when I was in graduate school working on a master’s degree in library science, and when I saw it on display at my public library, I knew I had to read it again. However, I approached it with some apprehension, because this novel is not an easy read. In this novel, Bagdasarian has written a bildungsroman like none I’ve ever read. He writes with such precision and insight into the human heart that Vahan really becomes more than just the novel’s protagonist; he becomes a representative of anyone who has gone through such inexplicable tragedy and survived. After Vahan has gone through what seems like more than one human heart could endure, he makes this telling comment:
At the time [before the nightmare began], I had thought that there would always be servants for me, and horses to ride, and huge rooms to play in, and crystal glasses to drink from. I had thought that servants were born servants and that they were different from me. Now I knew that they were no different at all.
This is a truly beautiful story that, despite its violence and the picture of utter depravity that it paints of the human heart, still manages to offer hope at the end.
My library has this book shelved in the juvenile fiction section. However, despite the fact that it does have the requisite happy ending, I feel that it belongs in the young adult section of library. The atrocities of war are given names and faces in this novel, and I feel that this book is best suited for a teenage or adult audience.