How many times have you read a book that opens by quoting Hitler in its epigraph? It's just a hunch, but we're betting the answer to that question—and proudly, at that—is zero. We hate to see a streak end, but we assure you that when Adam Bagdasarian opted to open his 2002 National Book Award finalist, Forgotten Fire, with words straight out of Hitler's mouth, he set the stage perfectly for the terrible—and super important—tale this book tells.
We really hate to agree with Hitler, but the guy had a point when he said, "Who does now remember the Armenians?" when asked about exterminating people in 1939. Because the reality is this: Not many of us remember the Armenian genocide that killed one and a half million people between 1915 and 1923, thanks in large part to the Turkish government's refusal to acknowledge the atrocities committed in the Republic during World War I.
Forgotten Fire asks us to think about this very question. Inspired by Bagdasarian's own family history during the Armenian genocide, the story of twelve-year-old Vahan asks us to look closely at one of the most terrible chapters in history and—as we do—to seriously consider whether or not we have forgotten about the one and a half million Armenians who died during this time. And if we have forgotten, this powerful book urges us to also wonder why that's happened—and to remember going forward.
Chances are, you're not Armenian (unless your last name is Kardashian), so you might be wondering why you should care about their history. Well, we could just tell you that you should care because it's important. Really important. This book is about a time in history that we should all know about and make sure never happens again.
We're guessing that won't do it for you though. So how about this? Forgotten Fire is really about a young guy—any young guy—standing up for himself in the midst of horrible times. When it comes down to it, the book shows us that someone can witness death and violence all around him, and come out stronger on the other end.
It takes extreme courage for Vahan to make the trip to Constantinople, and it isn't an easy journey for him. As more and more of his family die, courage becomes a bigger and bigger factor in his life, even becoming a life-sustaining attribute and a testament to the positive aspects of humanity. Vahan's courage to resist unjust laws and practices and keep trying to survive against all odds makes him an inspiration to many readers.
You've probably heard the saying what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and boy does that ring true for Vahan. His troubling tale shows us what it means to persevere, to truly never give up. Oh, if only there was an easier way to get stronger.
Based on a True Story
If the book got you interested in learning more about the Armenian genocide, this website has lots more information about this terrible moment in history.
Bagdasarian explains why he named the book Forgotten Fire, and what it was like to write such a sad tale.
Q & A
A segment from Book-TV, in which the author reads and discusses his book with students. Grab some popcorn, because this video's an hour long.
A two-minute short detailing how the book fits in with history. Warning: there are some really tough images to look at in this one.
A fan-made film of the book, made by students for students.
Real life picture from Armenians marching at the orders of the Turkish soldiers.
That's a Map
If you don't know much about geography, check out the map of where this all took place.
Long Time Coming
Armenians celebrate liberty in Constantinople.