Growing up in an affluent New Jersey suburb, prize-winning poet Peter Balakian lived a quintessential American baby-boom childhood dominated by rock 'n' roll and the New York Yankees. His large, extended family, all Armenian descendants, was a close-knit group of matriarchs and merchants, physicians, a bishop, and his aunts, who were well-known figures in the world of literature. But the strongest presence among them was Peter's grandmother, who, while playing the stock market and keeping track of the baseball stats of her beloved Yankees, cooked up Armenian delicacies for Peter and told him strange, often disturbing stories of her youth in Armenia--all cloaked in metaphor and symbolism.
These mysteries of his family's past remained so until, years later, Peter pieced together their meaning: the terrible event that his grandmother and so many of his relatives had fallen victim to was the Ottoman Turk government's extermination of more than one million Armenians in 1915--the century's first genocide.
As he grew older and slowly awakened to the truth of his ancestry, Peter embarked on a complex personal and historical journey, interpreting the myths, metaphors and silences of his own family and tracing his people's haunted history. Through reading the historical testimony of eyewitnesses (including a remarkable human rights suit his grandmother filed against the Turkish government) and State Department officials, he learned of the appalling atrocities carried out by the Turks against the Armenians--stories of families and individuals who were torn from their land and either executed outright or send on "deportation" marches into the desert. As he learned more, his aunts tell him of his grandmother's survivor experience, and about the horrors survived by their cousin Dovey.
Black Dog of Fate is written with a poet's elegance, grace, and wit, and through this story of discovery, Balakian weaves a complex array of narratives. His book also unmasks the lengths to which modern Turkey still goes to keep the truth buried.
In this issue of Bold Type, Peter Balakian has contributed three poems, an author reading from Black Dog of Fate featuring Allen Ginsberg and the author's mother,and an excerpt from this powerful book which describes some of the brutality inflicted upon the Armenians.
Photo of Peter Balakian copyright © John Hubbard
Send us comments