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Adam Bagdasarian's short story "The Survivor," also based on his great-uncle's experiences, won Yankee Magazine's fiction award. This is his first novel.
Gr 8 Up-It would be misleading to say that readers will enjoy this debut novel, but it is certain that they will be captivated, frightened, and profoundly affected by it. It is based on the true story of a 12-year-old boy who survived the massacre that saw hundreds of thousands of Armenians murdered after the Young Turks came to power. In 1915, Vahan Kenderian lives a pampered life that he has no reason to believe will ever end. But end it does, and in a brutal way. After the disappearance of his father and uncle, Vahan witnesses the murder of his two eldest brothers in the garden of the family home and, after a forced march, loses the other members of his family one by one. He faces hunger, destitution, beatings, and sexual abuse, and is forced to watch as others are killed or raped as he crosses Turkey in an attempt to escape this persecution of his people. Throughout these experiences, he develops, matures, and strengthens his resolve, at the same time-understandably-learning to fear the loss of anyone he becomes close to. When he finally reaches freedom in Constantinople in 1918, it is as though readers have, in some small way, endured these experiences as well, and come away stronger. If you're looking for a new piece of historical fiction to inspire students and ignite discussions, this is it.-Andrew Medlar, Chicago Public Library, IL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Drawing on his own great-uncle's experiences, Bagdasarian covers the years 1915-1918 when a boy from a wealthy, well-respected family from Bitlis, Turkey, is stripped of everything simply because he is Armenian. Told from an adult perspective through flashbacks, Vahan's narrative covers a harrowing journey beginning with his father's disappearance and, within a week or so, what he describes as the "last day my childhood" at age 12: Turkish gendarmes execute his two older brothers and force the rest of the familyDa brother, two sisters and motherDto walk for days without food or water. Upon his mother's urging, Vahan and his last surviving brother, Sisak, escape one night in the woods, and throughout the rest of the novel he experiences and witnesses unspeakable violence. The prose is often graceful (e.g., loneliness "simply comes, sits in the center of the heart where it cannot be overlooked, and abides") and the events are as gripping as they are horrifying. But unlike Anita Lobel's remarkable WWII memoir No Pretty Pictures, told from the perspective of a child who does not quite grasp what's happening around her, the narrative here maintains an adult sensibility. This point of view both distances readers from Vahan's emotions and makes the events disturbing for even the more mature adolescent readers (Vahan's sister commits suicide in front of him rather than risk rape by a Turk; he himself is sexually molested; he witnesses the rape of a 10-year-old girl). While this is an important history, it may be better suited to sophisticated teens and adults. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.