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Black Dog of Fate: An American Son Uncovers His Armenian Past

4.16  ·  Rating Details  ·  947 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
The first-born son of his generation, Peter Balakian grew up in a close, extended family, sheltered by 1950s and '60s New Jersey suburbia and immersed in an all-American boyhood defined by rock 'n' roll, adolescent pranks, and a passion for the New York Yankees that he shared with his beloved grandmother. But beneath this sunny world lay the dark specter of the trauma his ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 4th 1998 by Broadway (first published 1997)
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Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormickThe Translator by Daoud HariTears of the Desert by Halima BashirFirst They Killed My Father by Loung UngBlack Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian
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Community Reviews

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Michael Blackmer
Jul 13, 2015 Michael Blackmer rated it it was amazing
Needs to be read. A genocide memoir that reminds us that we have not arrived as humanity. This was the first genocide called a genocide and yet we have continued to watch as these atrocities take place. The world seldom steps in to save these people groups in spite of having organized the UN which is supposed to step in and protect during these times. Instead, in the UN, we have a toothless tiger gumming at the food of meaningless non-issues while doing damage and allowing damage to be done wher ...more
Helene Pilibosian
Feb 02, 2015 Helene Pilibosian rated it it was amazing
This book was a stunner. Extremely well written, it caught hold of the imaginations of many people and organizations to become a best seller. The story of a child growing up with the ghost of a genocide in the family's past speaks for many, if not all, Armenian families of the time period the author covers. It echoes hopes and fears of the grandchildren of victims, a bit less but still haunted by this invisible specter.
Jan 05, 2016 Windsofdestiny rated it it was amazing
If you want a book on the different regions and different methods of deportation of the Armenians which resulted in a genocide, this is the book to read. The beginning is a bit humorous, the middle was a bit dry but informative and latter part of the book is factual information
Berj Akian
Jan 05, 2014 Berj Akian rated it it was amazing
Stirring storyline of horrors occurring during the Armenian Genocide.
Griffin Orlando
Mar 02, 2014 Griffin Orlando rated it it was amazing
Overall, I think this is an excellent book for anybody interested in Middle East/Caucasus Region studies. Mr. Balakian is a well regarded poet who captures the tragedy of the Armenian people with captivating language and past stories from family members.

I found many commonalities with Balakian's family and my own, who also suffered at the hands of the Turks, but were fortunate enough to also escape and find a new life in Paterson, New Jersey. It is striking that a family can withhold such horro
Andrea Homier
May 09, 2011 Andrea Homier rated it really liked it
My best friend, through upper grade school and through junior high school, after which we moved to a different state, was Armenian. I never understood what that meant, except that her family was exotic and cultured and educated, although completely American at the same time. It has taken me almost 40 years to explore what it means to be Armenian, and Peter Balakian's Black Dog of Fate was an excellent place to start. The author is just a few years older than I, and I can see his family experienc ...more
Mher Mkrtchian
Oct 02, 2011 Mher Mkrtchian rated it it was amazing
I have just finished Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian, and I found this book very interesting and also very sad. I think that this book truely extendes the meaning of what it is to be an Armenian and the history of the Armenian Genocide. Black Dog of Fate is a memoir by the descendant of Armenian Genocide survivors who ended up in the US. The first half of the book consists of Balakian’s memories growing up in New jersey in the 1950s and 1960s. He grew up knowing he was Armenian, but not know ...more
Joseph Copeli
Aug 05, 2010 Joseph Copeli rated it really liked it
[This review also appears on, a site for review and discussion of creative works.]

In Black Dog of Fate, Peter Balakian describes his life growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey and slowly discovering the horrible event that his family tries to protect him from: the Armenian genocide conducted by the Turkish government of 1915.

The memoir relates many of the adolescent experiences that American readers are familiar with: high school football, teenage rebellion, girlfriends, etc. Ho
Sep 03, 2015 Kate rated it it was amazing
I teach college-level European history, and will certainly be adding this to my syllabus. Balakian is an excellent writer, and his unique crafting of the story of how he came to understand the fate of many of his family members led me to finish this book in less than three days. An important book, not only for Armenian-Americans, but for all Americans, as each of us has the potential to be surprised by our past. I'll also recommend "The Burning Tigris" as a companion read for this one.
Jul 11, 2015 Jeanette rated it liked it
Difficult book to review! I almost gave it 2 stars, but lengthy sections and the research (both) were too well detailed to award so few stars. My enjoyment level was 2 stars, that's being generous. Why? Because it held considerable familial depth and some splotches of humor, you would then assume it might be a medium type of reading effort. Well, not at all, for me it was not. It was a fight for me to finish this book- so difficult to get links from former chapters! It's beyond just jumpy (many ...more
Lucine Van Stappen Gevorgyan
A painful history of one person, which is actually the history of thousands of migrants spread all over the world. "Black Dog of Fate" is written in a very personal tone, which makes it the story of every single Armenian directly or indirectly influenced by the Armenian Genocide.
Sep 26, 2015 Maci rated it liked it
Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian is the story of Peter discovering his past. Peter grew up in the suburbs of New York and doesn't know much about his families past, what the Old World means, or why, since he is the firstborn grandson he is his grandmothers favorite. This book is also a great commentary about fitting in society, Peter's family was never like the other families. As Peter is Armenian and as he grows up, he pieces together what happened and tries to figure out why he was never to ...more
Sep 21, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it
Balakian's memoir is mostly concerned with the Armenian genocide's legacies among survivors and their communities and this is a powerful way of approaching the history. I'm not sure how it would read without some basic prior knowledge but it certainly offers helpful perspective on both the genocide and the era of Balakian's childhood and adolescence in postwar America. Notwithstanding the influence of longer-term factors, this is a distinctly twentieth-century story and it offers much food for t ...more
Christian Engler
Sep 21, 2013 Christian Engler rated it it was amazing
Black Dog of Fate is not the typical Baby Boomer memoir of growing up under Eisenhower and Kennedy, drinking pop and dancing to Elvis and the classics of early rock n' roll. The story at the beginning is very evocative of what life was like in the fifties burgeoning into the sixties - optimistic, carefree, family oriented. All the best early memories of Peter Balakian's life are excellently recalled and controlled; he writes about family, food, baseball, football, movies, girls, school, all the ...more
Oct 16, 2008 Thomas rated it really liked it
Towards the end of Black Dog of Fate Balakian's aunt criticizes him for politicizing poetry (or poeticizing politics), and in some sense this book is a response to that. There is a divide between an objective accounting of history and the personal expression of history as lived, and this book is lodged squarely in that crevice. The problem is that in the final analysis, the book doesn't succeed as well in both arenas. Balakian is a poet, and the stories he tells of his youth and his family are e ...more
Jacob Hale
Aug 16, 2007 Jacob Hale rated it it was amazing
Like many non-Armenians, this was the first book I read about how the Armenian genocide impacts contemporary Armenian American lives. Balakian is a fabulous writer; I have since read (and loved) a couple of his poetry books and see now how his way with language, with meaning and sound, plays into making Black Dog the classic that it is. I already knew a bit about the genocide, and about how that history, Turkey's denial of the genocide which continues to this day, and the US government's contemp ...more
Nov 30, 2007 Ashley rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Interested in knowing more about the Armenian Genocide
Half memoir about growing up in a first/second generation immigrant family in the suburbs of America, half memoir about discovering family skeletons and the events of the Armenian genocide, this book is wholly engrossing. The first half of the book is a portrait if Peter's relationship with various members of his family with almost no reference to his "Armenian Past." The second half of the book focuses on his discovery of the Armenian Genocide through various texts and an unwelcome (by other fa ...more
Jan 04, 2008 Lee rated it really liked it
Peter Balakian is really a poet but wrote Black Dog of Fate after the death of his Armenian grandmother to connect with her after his death. This memoir won the Pen Albrand Award in 1997, is a short 300 pages, and I found it to be a real page turner. The son of a upper middle class family whose father was a physician, Balakian grew up in New Jersey close enough to Manhattan to visit his intellectual family members there including his grandmother.

He slowly discovers his family’s past while growi
Aug 18, 2014 Kim rated it it was amazing
Oh wow. This was amazing. Although it took awhile to suck me in (I couldn't understand all the groundwork he was laying at first), as you get into the depth of the story it makes the earlier chapters much more poignant. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the audio narration although it is read by the author. Perhaps he reads it as he meant it to be read, but to me it is in 'poet voice' and nearly intolerable. The story is well worth reading though.
Peter Balakian, best known as a poet, also wrote this biographic account of his privileged suburban child in New Jersey during the 1950s which was undermined by his relatives' guarded memories of the past. In tracing his family's past, he finds that his maternal grandmother survived the brutal 1915 Turkish extermination of over a million Armenians. In reclaming his heritage, Balakian condemns the political forces that have conspired to overloook the 20th century's first genocide.

Balakian is an
Lori Dajose
Feb 02, 2016 Lori Dajose rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book on a whim as I was checking out Teddy's Kindle. And then I just never really put it down.

This is one of, if not *the* most, moving books I have ever read. It is beautiful, it is heartbreaking, it is dark—and it is hopeful. It is an illustration of the human and the inhumane.

I am glad that I'm starting off 2016 with this book. It's not really a happy book. But it will revive in you an acute sense of compassion, and fill you with a new headful of questions about humanity, cul
Krista Stevens
Jul 23, 2013 Krista Stevens rated it it was amazing
Pen Albrand Award Winner.

Peter Balakian grew up in a NJ suburb with his Armenian extended family clueless to the Armenian genocide of the early 1900s. The first part of the book is more memoir of his early life including his close relationship with his grandmother who had escaped the horror but never spoke about it except for one or two vague comments.

Balakian eventually discovers the true story of his family's journey and survival as well as the continued efforts of the Turkish government to co
Megan Blood
Jul 02, 2012 Megan Blood rated it it was ok
If I could have skipped the first, oh, half of the book and gone straight to the part about his family in Armenia, this would have been a 4 star book. But since he made me struggle through his pretentious autobiography first, it got knocked down to two. "Did you know that I knew Allen Ginsberg PERSONALLY? Oh, and that I can employ STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS writing techniques, even when they don't really add to the writing?"

Basically, it didn't flow well. For all I know he's a decent poet, but wri
Kate Bernhardt
Feb 13, 2014 Kate Bernhardt rated it it was amazing
I can't recommend this book highly enough. A personal and historic view into the Armenian genocide by one of America's best living poets. It makes a great complement to Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls, which covers much of the same story but in fiction.
Deuce Bigelow
Jul 16, 2012 Deuce Bigelow rated it it was amazing
What an amazing book! The descriptions of the genocide were REALLY hard to get through (if you don't cry or at least dry heave, I question your humanity). It definitely reminded me of my family in the same way the author talks about how his culture and history were always there but not necessarily spoken about. He was left to his own devices to teach himself things and then go back and ask questions and it's definitely been a lot of the same for me. I miss my Grandparents more and more after I f ...more
Eric Lazarian
Jul 24, 2012 Eric Lazarian rated it really liked it
From my original Amazon review:

The excellence of this work is found in many different forms. It is a story of self-discovery, of coming to know the nuances and subtleties of one's ethnic heritage. It is a story of truth, both of the tragic history of the Armenian people, and of a particular immigrant Armenian family as well. Balakian weaves a wonderful and at times heart-wrenching tale of his sojourn, with his childhood in New Jersey, and his discovery of the terrible truths of the Armenian geno
Apr 21, 2012 Aviva rated it liked it
It was interesting to watch Peter Balakian learn about his Armenian Ancestry. The first half of the book was fun stories about growing up in northern NJ with a family whose ethnicity didn't match the people around it. So, it's kind of odd that later in the book the author insists he didn't feel Armenian and wasn't raised with Armenian culture. Given all the food he lovingly described, I just don't buy it. Clearly, he did grown up not knowing anything about the roots of that culture, but the cult ...more
Jun 03, 2015 Gbergen rated it it was amazing
A memoir from a man of Armenian descent who discovers the history of his family that was never talked about or even mentioned. This is a book I believe everyone should read to be aware of the genocide that was not acknowledged for so many years.
Cate C.
May 11, 2015 Cate C. rated it it was amazing
It's a blend of personal childhood memories that illustrate contemporary Armenian culture, accounts of the Armenian genocide and beautiful poetry. I loved this book. I remember not being able to put it down.
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Peter Balakian is the Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor in Humanities and professor of English at Colgate University. He is the author of five books of poems and three prose works, including The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and Americas Response, a New York Times best seller; and Black Dog of Fate, a memoir, winner of the PEN/Albrand Prize."

Balakian was born in Teaneck, New Jerse
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“And then the Turkish gendarmes and zaptieh went from Armenian house to Armenian house confiscating weapons or anything they thought might be one. If possible, the priest would come to warn each family that the gendarmes or the zaptieh were coming so they could prepare. The zaptieh knocked on Armenian doors any time of day or night, and they preferred coming at night. They came to the Kazanjians, and the Arslanians, and the Meugerditchians, and to the Hovsepians and Haroutiunians and to the Shekerlemedjians. And finally, they came to our house in the evening after dinner. Three men in dark brown uniforms walked into the foyer and through the courtyard and said to my mother that if she did not hand over every gun in the house, we would be killed.” 0 likes
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