Peter Balakian

Black Dog Of Fate

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Black Dog Of Fate Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 58-page guide for “Black Dog Of Fate” by Peter Balakian includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 30 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Questionable Value of Mid-Century American Suburbia and Silence Through Trauma and Diaspora.

Plot Summary

Peter Balakian’s Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir (1997) tells the story of the author’s path to embracing his Armenian identity and understanding the legacies of a dark history. Born into the comfortable and consumerist suburbs of mid-century American suburbia, Balakian experienced the vestibules of his family’s Armenian culture mostly through the influence of his maternal grandmother. As he grew up, he caught other glimpses of the family’s heritage; in particular, home rituals in their religion, and in occasional passing references to the lost homeland. Not until his young adulthood did he learn about the events of the Armenian Genocide, which the Ottoman Empire launched in 1915. Knowing the painful root of his family’s enduring silence about their past allows the author to see his relatives in a new light and become an influential voice of the Armenian diaspora beyond his family.

Balakian discusses the challenges and implications of breaking the silence surrounding past trauma and exposing historical truths. Those efforts prove all the more difficult in the case of the Armenian Genocide because, through the 20th century, Turkey and groups all over the globe effectively denied that the genocide ever happened, refusing Armenians the right to heal, comprehend, and forgive. Balakian champions education because it can uncover truths and foster processing. He condemns ignorance and corruption because they inflict new pain on old wounds for survivors and their descendants.

Poetry both facilitated the author’s journey and imbibes his narrative. Balakian is an English Professor at Colgate University and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2016. It was through writing that Balakian came to understand his grandmother in retrospect, connect more deeply with his aunts and parents in their lifetimes, and enter the upper echelon of a global Armenian intellectual community that pursues justice for survivors and descendants in the 21st century.

The book (as of the 10th-anniversary edition) consists of seven parts. The first three ruminate on some of Peter’s closest relatives: His grandmother, his mother, and his father. The fourth section provides more reflections on these characters and other family members but centrally tracks Peter’s maturation from adolescence to adulthood, and from the conforming nature of childhood to the curious nature of young adulthood. Part Five covers details of Armenian history before and through the Genocide. It is rich and explicit with brutal details collected from historical research and family anecdotes. He does not sugarcoat the horrific stories. The final two parts, “Commemoration” and “Syria 2005,” trace the legacies of the genocide into the late 20th and early-21st centuries, respectively.

The growth within these eras of Balakian’s life transforms his worldview. In his youth, he found his family’s strict dinner rituals, family gatherings, and suspicious silence about Armenia frustratingly strange. As an adult, he understands the need for silence as a coping mechanism among his grandmother’s generation, who survived the genocide as young adults and became refugees in a time before publicized civil rights concerns or the United Nations. His parents kept the silence in order to protect their children from what they had either suffered or narrowly avoided in their own youth. They had the opportunities and privileges to establish comfortable suburban lives and own safe, private homes, impossibilities for their own parents. Peter is of a generation that has enough historical distance and insight to speak out—to make sure the world remembers and regrets the Armenian Genocide so that it cannot happen again. That objective is an ongoing struggle, as Peter continues to reflect in his adulthood on the political incompetence and violence in international politics.

Black Dog of Fate won the PEN/Martha Albrand Prize in 1998. It is a study of the resilience of a people and the power of their enduring voice, set on two continents over a century of modern history.

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Part 1