Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir

In This Review

Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir

By Peter Balakian
Basic Books, 1997
289 pp. $24.00

It starts as a graceful, Holden Caufield-like memoir of youth and ends in a scream. Balakian, a poet and professor of English at Colgate, is a third-generation Armenian. He does not so much tell his life story as use it. Into his typically American adolescence in the 1950s come small bolts of evil, rather like a movie with fragmentary flashbacks. A strange gesture from his well-starched physician father (empathizing with a Sioux chief on a father-son bus trip through South Dakota), a dropped phrase from his professor aunt, and particularly the mysterious warnings of his beloved grandmother, the source of the puzzling, allegorical tale about the black dog of fate -- these cracks in the silence of his family hang in the air, until at last as a young man Balakian sets out to uncover what happened to his grandmother and the others in the collapsing Ottoman Empire in 1915. Balakian makes no pretense to be an objective social scientist carefully weighing all sides of the controversy over the Armenian genocide. His is a cry from the heart, transcribed with enormous literary skill, that directly penetrates the reader's emotions and uniquely conveys how and why those events still grip the Armenian diaspora so ferociously.

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