Title: The Sandcastle Girls
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Pages: 320 (2012 total – 6,857)
Approx. Word Count: 96,000 (2012 total – 1,910,214)
Release Date: July 17, 2012
Categories: general fiction, historical fiction
Source: ARC from publisher via Edelweiss
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Back of the book:
The Sandcastle Girls is a sweeping historical love story steeped in Chris Bohjalian’s Armenian heritage.
When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Aleppo, Syria she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The year is 1915 and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to help deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. There Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. When Armen leaves Aleppo and travels south into Egypt to join the British army, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost.
Fast forward to the present day, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed “The Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss – and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.
I didn’t learn of the Armenian Genocide until I was the ripe old age of 19 or 20. I went to college in Waltham, Massachusetts, and one day on a drive through the neighboring town of Watertown, I spotted the Armenian Library and Museum. Realizing I had no idea where Armenians were from, I went home and looked them up.
Bohjalian, the grandson of Armenian survivors, has dropped us into the midst of the genocide, and has given us multiple points of view. First there is Elizabeth, the young Boston girl who is there to do mission work. Her counterpoint is Armen, a young Armenian engineer who is searching for his wife and daughter and surviving solely because of his usefulness. He searches every group of refugees that arrives in Aleppo, Syria after a ruthless march through the desert, but so far, the search is fruitless. These, and the additional points of view, give us the experience from many sides, and I think it’s a crucial part of the story construction.
In the present day, Laura is becoming increasingly obsessed with finding out the story of her grandparents, Armen and Elizabeth, a task made more difficult by their reluctance to talk about their experience. When she began her search, she had no idea the incredible story she would uncover.
I thought Bohjalian told a lovely story, full of joy and sorrow and missed opportunities. We get a taste of the Armenian culture, as well as an idea of the conditions of the genocide, without it being either too whitewashed or too overwrought. When a taste of the true horror is needed, he gives it to you, and when you need a taste of kindness, you get that too.
I’ve recently read another book that was very personal to the author: The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman, set in the time and place where she grew up. In that case, I felt that her closeness to the story was a huge set-back. The Sandcastle Girls is the complete opposite of that. This feels like a labor of love, and I think Bohjalian really did justice to the Armenian people and their troubled history.
- “I’ve never read another work of fiction that has more completely and almost effortlessly captured the Armenian genocide of the early 2oth century.” — Devourer of Books
- “I feel comfortable recommending it to any reader, regardless of what kind of genre they like best, even a crime fiction lover like me.” — Don’t Mind the Mess
- “‘This is the most important book I’ll write,’ tweeted Bohjalian to me on July 7 when I mentioned on Twitter that I was starting the book.” — Red Shutters
2011: Pale Demon (Kim Harrison)
2010: Rest in Pieces (Rita Mae Brown)
2009: Vampire Academy (Richelle Mead)
2008: Ice Trap (Kitty Sewell)
2007: The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
2006: Betrayal in Death (J.D. Robb)
2005: Open Season (Linda Howard)