It’s a stuffy summer night in Fresno in 1953. Half-Irish Teresa, trying to grapple with her Armenian fiance Mihran’s cultural identity, asks him if he will teach their children to hate the Turks.
Surrounded by figures that he registers as ancestral ghosts, Mihran thinks for a moment.
“Hate is not a solution,” Mihran says. “But neither is forgetting.”
The conundrum of how to forgive and not forget, laid out in a condensed scene from the recently released novel “Shadows of 1915,” becomes a recurring theme in the work by Jerry Burger. It’s a contradiction that continues to haunt the contemporary Armenian community, according to Burger, a retired Santa Clara University psychology professor.
“Reasonable people would say that hate is not a solution, especially hating the children and great-grandchildren of the people who committed atrocities,” Burger said. “Yet, somehow to forget all the suffering, all the horror that went on, would make it seem like it was for naught. [They] need to keep the memories alive, and they need to move on.”
Released this past spring, “Shadows” is set into action by an interaction between Turkish college students and sons of Armenian Genocide survivors. Amid the fallout, the characters must synthesize their family and community loyalties with the legal system and personal beliefs.
It’s just one of a handful of fiction works written in English to tackle the Armenian Genocide, according to Burger. He said he’s aware of only about eight or nine other novels in existence, and almost all were written by people with Armenian backgrounds.
Increasing awareness of the tragedy — and how it reverberates today — partially inspired Burger to write “Shadows.” It’s his first novel.