Dreams of Bread and Fire

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Growing up in Watertown, Massachusetts, Ani Silver was thwarted by gaps rather than boundaries. She lacked memories of her dead father, whose Jewish heritage was lost to her. Her mother’s Armenian culture surrounded her, but it too held mysteries. Then there were her many fears of the unpredictable—of flying, barking dogs, and fallen angels which lurked in her dark bedroom at night.

Her first love affair, during college days, widened her horizons while leaving her bereft. She can’t understand her rich boyfriend Asa, who wanted her so badly, then abandons her to bum his way cross-country. For Ani, as for many American girls, a year in Paris promises a getaway, and the chance to find her identity and destiny.

Besides her au pair duties there, she attends classes occasionally and meets men. Ani is lonely in Paris, and when her path crosses Van Ardavanian’s, their falling in love seems preordained. Van is a “nice Armenian boy” of whom Ani’s grandparents approve. Only gradually—but shockingly—does she realize he is hiding dark secrets of his own. The year’s end brings Ani back to America, to graduate school, and to a wholly out-of-character act.

Among the pleasures of this novel are its wonderful word pictures. Ongoing events fade seamlessly into Ani’s memories, and out again like a waking dream. Ani’s European stay, though, yields no culture-clash events, and no evocative images of Paris. Only in Corsica does the reader get any sense of place. Elsewhere the focus is on Ani’s internal landscape.

Dreams of Bread and Fire also touches on the 1915 Turkish massacre of Armenians, and by extension, the following century’s genocide and terrorism. Some moral questions are raised, but left unsettled, even in Ani’s mind. At the end Ani still hasn’t discovered her identity or destiny, but she finds her legacy.