cover image The Forgotten Fire

The Forgotten Fire

Adam Bagdasarian, DK Publishing. DK Publishing (Dorling Kindersley), $19.99 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-7894-2627-7

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.)