is a 2002 young adult novel, by Armenian-American author Adam Bagdasarian. Based on a true story and set during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 to 1923, it follows the story of a young boy. Vahan Kenderian is a child of wealth and privilege, the youngest of a wealthy Armenian family in Turkey. However, his security is destroyed when the genocide begins; several members of his family are arrested or killed, and he is forced to flee for his life. Despite facing a difficult battle for survival and doing things he never imagined he would have to, his strength and spirit endure,while he fights for his life as danger closes in. Exploring themes of faith, inner strength, and the psychological toll of isolation and imprisonment, Forgotten Fire
was critically acclaimed for its unflinching look at a horrific but often forgotten period of human history. The book is regularly taught in schools to illustrate the concepts of genocide and ethnic cleansing, and has been compared to classics of Holocaust literature and narratives. Widely praised upon its release, it was nominated for the National Book Award and received an honor in the category for young people’s literature.
As Forgotten Fire
begins, Vahan Kenderian is twelve, living in Turkey with his wealthy family and older brothers. However, soon his father and uncle are taken away by Turkish police officers. There had been a massacre of Armenians years before, and everyone is worried it is happening again. Soon, the Turkish government steps up its assault. Around his neighborhood, men are dragged out of their homes and shot, and women are assaulted. The soldiers arrive at Vahan’s home and shoot his two oldest brothers. Only the young Vahan, his sisters, mother, grandmother, and slightly older brother, Sisak, are left alive. However, they are captured and imprisoned in a prison called Goryan’s Inn. There, they are starved and abused. Vahan’s sister soon commits suicide with poison, and his grandmother dies after being assaulted with a rock. Vahan’s mother begs him and Sisak to run away, hoping that they will be able to escape. They make it a short distance, but Sisak is soon found and killed by the soldiers. Vahan heads to the home of his friend Pattoo. Pattoo and his mother have yet to flee, despite Pattoo’s father and brother being murdered. At first, Vahan is welcomed into the home, but Pattoo’s mother worries they will be found out because of him. She arranges for him to stay with Selim Bey, a former friend of Vahan’s father—who now works for the Turkish army.
At first, Vahan is treated well by Selim, but he is shocked when he finds out that Selim is actively killing Armenians. Selim is well dressed and charismatic, not appearing like a killer, so Vahan pretends he doesnot know what he is doing. Vahan works as a stableboy; Selim keeps him fed, and Vahan goes along with him on his travels. Although Vahan is still suspicious, he thinks it is better than having no allies at all. One day, Selim brings home an Armenian girl named Seranoush. Vahan is glad to have a friend, but is horrified when he finds out that Seranoush is a captive for the soldiers to sexually assault. He realizes that Selim is a monster, and that he has to escape before Selim kills him. He escapes and is found by a group of Turkish refugees. He pretends to be deaf and mute, so they will not know he is Armenian and kill him. However, he is soon found out by one of the refugees. Knowing the man who discovered him can expose him at any time, he decides to flee again. He pretends to be a girl as he finds a place to stay at a local orphanage. He stays there until Dr. and Mrs. Tashian come to the orphanage looking for a servant to tend to their place. Although they think Vahan is small for the job, they take him anyway.
The Tashians treat Vahan like a son, and he earns his keep with normal chores. He befriends Seta, an Armenian girl who lives next door, and finds out she is in a relationship with the German consul. However, Seta soon gets pregnant with the consul’s child, and he abandons her as her parents throw her out. The Tashians take her in, but she dies soon after giving birth. The Tashians want to raise her child, but the Consul comes and takes the child away. The grief of these events causes Mrs. Tashian to have a stroke and die. Vahan decides it is time for him to leave and let Dr. Tashian grieve in peace, so he gets a job driving wagons for the Turkish army. Dr. Tashian gives him money and wishes him well. With his new wagon, Vahan decides he wants to escape to Constantinople. He knows there is nowhere safe for Armenians in Turkey, so once he arrives, he pays a man to smuggle him on board. He is smuggled to safety after several agonizing days at sea, arriving in a safe location where he can finally be free of the fear of death. However, he is still haunted by the loss of his family and all the people he lost along the way.
Adam Bagdasarian is an Armenian-American author of young adult novels. Forgotten Fire
, his debut novel was released to great success, including a National Book Award nomination. This was followed by his critically acclaimed second novel, First French Kiss: and other traumas
. He currently lives in New York City. He is the son of Ross Bagdasarian, the creator of the iconic franchise Alvin and the Chipmunks.