“I never had any expectation that the book would take off as it did, so when it did it was a surprise,” Balakian said of the memoir’s reception. “The book gets taught a lot in universities, and it’s led to a lot of my doing a lot of events — which has been fun and gratifying.”
Black Dog of Fate traces Balakian’s growing awareness of the Genocide from the oblique stories his grandmother told him during his boyhood in suburban New Jersey to his efforts to trace the narrative of what happened in 1915 that his family would never discuss.
When the book’s original editor approached Balakian on a 10th anniversary edition, she gave him the inspiration to continue the thread he had begun.
In May 2005, Balakian’s speaking engagement in Aleppo, Syria became an opportunity to visit the site where his grandmother had sought refuge after enduring a death march.
“The events that unfolded were just astonishing to me,” he said. “The Prelacy told me they could help me uncover my grandmother’s lost world in refuge. I was being taken to the very site of her world, and this was a surprise and happened spontaneously. It was a revelation.”
Balakian had a chance to view church records of his grandmother and visit her old apartment, detailing the experience in one of the two new chapters.
A second new chapter, “Bones,” chronicles Balakian’s trip to Der Zor, Syria, the final destination for many of the Armenians led on death marches. An excerpted version of the chapter appeared in the New York Times in December.
“I didn’t imagine how deeply that was going to affect me,” Balakian said of traveling to the place he compares in the memoir to Auschwitz. “To be on the site of close to the death of half a million is more profound than you can say.”
In the years following the original appearance of Black Dog of Fate, Balakian’s continued study of the Genocide, including the 2003 New York Times bestseller The Burning Tigris, has kept his public profile high. He said the initial impetus for the memoir, however, was simply to share a story he felt was worthwhile.
“I think you only write a memoir if you feel you have a story to tell,” Balakian said. “That was the most important thing to me: to tell that story as richly as I could in the best language that I could.”
The new chapters in Black Dog of Fate, Balakian added, made the book seem like a new project.
“I wanted to continue the story of the Armenian Genocide as it evolved south of Turkey proper into this place of enormous historic intensity of northern and eastern Syria,” he said. “I’m hoping these new readers will find it an organic continuation of the story.”