for Forgotten Fire
by Adam Bagdasarian
Adam Bagdasarian’s debut novel was inspired by the experiences of his great uncle, who lived through the Armenian genocide in Turkey in 1915. Vahan Kenderian is 12 years old as the story opens. He describes his life, as the son of an influential Armenian family, as comfortable to the point of luxury. But early in 1915, everything changes. The Turkish government begins to arrest Armenians, Vahan’s father and uncles among them. When one of his uncles returns, haggard, gaunt, and beaten, he has small bags of poison for Vahan’s mother and sisters in “case there is any trouble.” “I did not know when I opened my eyes the next morning that it was the last day of my childhood,” says Vahan. That is the day the gendarmes execute two of Vahan’s older brothers before the family’s eyes. The rest are arrested and detained in a small room with dozens of other Armenians. Vahan manages to escape with his remaining brother when they are being marched to a new location. His brother soon dies, and Vahan is alone, surviving by wit, luck, and the occasional assistance of a sympathetic Turk. He relates his experiences in the voice of a child betrayed, confused, but determined to survive. Bagdasarian writes with haunting realism, describing brutality in painfully beautiful prose. A chilling epigraph underscores the importance of knowing and remembering this and all other holocausts: “Who does now remember the Armenians?”--Adolph Hitler, 1939. (Age 14 and older)
CCBC Choices 2001. © Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2001. Used with permission.
1. Why do you think the author included the quote from Hitler as the epigraph? Did your ideas change after reading Forgotten Fire ? 2. Vahan Kenderian has never known fear until the Turks come to take his father away. He says, “I wished I could go to [my mother’s] room and tell her I was afraid. But somehow I knew that I couldn’t.” (p. 22) Discuss why Vahan doesn’t feel that he can share his fear with his mother. 3. How did the attitude of the Armenian community change once the Turks took possession of the town and began the genocide? 4. Describe the Kenderian family before the Turks shatter their lives. Cite evidence from the novel that Vahan greatly admires his father. Why is Vahan considered the “black sheep” of the family? How does the memory of his father give him the courage he needs to survive? 5. Were you aware of the Armenian genocide before reading this book? What other ethnic wars have occurred since World War II? 6. How does Vahan react when he witnesses the murders of his brothers by the Turkish soldiers? 7. Vahan has several violent experiences during his journey to Constantinople. Discuss his behavior afterward. Did the graphic descriptions disturb your reading? 8. Vahan says that loneliness “transforms the heartiest of souls into a living ash of spiritual doubt and despair.” (p. 130) How does Vahan reveal his “spiritual doubt”? 9. What is Vahan’s first impression of Selim Bey? How does Vahan discover Selim Bey’s true nature? 10. Discuss what Vahan means when he says, “I knew that I was free, and that I would never be free.” (p. 270) Are there other countries today that deny freedom to certain citizens based on their ethnicity? 11. How do Dr. and Mrs. Tashian help Vahan on his journey toward a new life? 12. Think about all of the people in Vahan’s past. How does each of them contribute to his “freedom”? How does each give him courage, even in the smallest way? 13. What is the meaning of the title Forgotten Fire ? 14. How does the quote from Hitler relate to the Armenian genocide?
Publisher description retrieved from Google Books.