Synopses & Reviews
The first-born son of his generation, Peter Balakian grew up in a close, extended family, sheltered by 1950s and '60s New Jersey suburbia and immersed in an all-American boyhood defined by rock 'n' roll, adolescent pranks, and a passion for the New York Yankees that he shared with his beloved grandmother. But beneath this sunny world lay the dark specter of the trauma his family and ancestors had experienced--the Turkish government's extermination of more than a million Armenians in 1915, including many of Balakian's relatives, in the century's first genocide.
In elegant, moving prose, Black Dog of Fate charts Balakian's growth and personal awakening to the facts of his family's history and the horrifying aftermath of the Turkish government's continued campaign to cover up one of the worst crimes ever committed against humanity. In unearthing the secrets of a family's past and how they affect its present, Black Dog of Fate gives fresh meaning to the story of what it means to be an American.
About the Author
Peter Balakian is the author of The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response, winner of the Raphael Lemkin Prize and a New York Times best seller, as well as June-tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000. He is Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of the Humanities at Colgate University.
Reading Group Guide
1. Peters grandmother Nafina tells him cryptic tales throughout his childhood. He recounts one of the most memorable, which bears the books namesake, on pages 9-10. Why is the rich woman offering the spring lamb turned away by Fate, and the poor woman bearing the dead black dog taken in? What do you think the story means in the larger context of Nafinas past?
2. Peter recalls helping his grandmother cook as a child, and contrasts the extravagant, painstaking meals his family prepares with the quick frozen dinners of his suburban American neighbors. How else is food represented throughout the book? What is the significance of food in the framework of the larger story of Black Dog of Fate?
3. Why are aesthetic ideals so important to the Aroosians, especially concerting clothing, houses, and food? Discuss some examples of their very high standards.
4. Why is baseball so important to Peters grandmother? Why is she so passionate about this particular game, and why does she connect so strongly with the Yankees?
5. In what ways are poetry and literature a part of Peters family heritage? How does his Aunt Annas love of surrealistic poetry and his own preference for a poetry that can incorporate history and more realistic dimensions of the world reflect who they are as people, and the worlds in which they were raised?
6. What does Peter learn from Ambassador Henry Morgenthaus memoir? How does it affect him?
7. Peters grandfather is conscripted to serve as a physician in the Turkish army in the First World War, nursing back to health soldiers he knows will likely go back onto the killing fields to rob and kill his own people (pages 240-241). What do you think of the way he handled this difficult situation? How would you feel if you were placed in a similar position?
8. Do you think the Turkish groups protesting the genocide commemoration in Times Square were entitled to their protest? Why or why not? Do you think you would hold the same opinion of Holocaust deniers protesting at a Holocaust commemoration?
9. While contemplating the Turkish governments denial of the Armenian Genocide (page 269), Peter articulates how important it is to have “grown up in a society that believes in the ceaseless process of critical evaluation.” Do you agree that our modern U.S. society believes in the “ceaseless process of critical evaluation?” Why or why not?
10. On page 279, Peter quotes writer and historian Deborah Lipstadt as saying, “Free speech does not guarantee the deniers the right to be treated as the other side of a legitimate debate when there is no other side.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
11. In your own high school history classes, what, if anything, did you learn about the Armenian genocide? What impact did this prior knowledge have on your experience of reading Black Dog of Fate
12. How do Peters feelings about his father change over the years? In what ways do his perceptions of his father shift as he learns more about his familys history?