- I’ve been a huge fan of Christ Bohjalian since first reading The Double Bind.
Summary from GoodReads:
When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Syria, she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke College, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The First World War is spreading across Europe, and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to 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 to join the British Army in Egypt, 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.Flash forward to the present, 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.
The Sandcastle Girls reminds me, in some ways, of Bohjalian’s book Skeletons at the Feast – however in The Sandcastle Girls things get a bit more personal – and it’s noticeable.
Bohjalian uses some of his own family history to help in influencing the movement of the story and dives into a tale of the Armenian genocide that occured in 1916-1917 – when the US was still neutral and Germany and Turkey were allied. The Sandcastle Girls portrays so well the struggles the German allies were faced with (little knowing what what come in the future) as they witnessed the untold atrocities being visited not only the Armenian men – but the women and children as well.
Bohjalian pulls no punches in this novel. But instead of using gratuitous violence (aside from a few well-placed moments) he lays out each and every word of what the Armenian people lived with – and those words lay there, stark and unforgiving on the paper in such a way that I couldn’t help but start crying.
The reason those words were so powerful, however, is because now I had names, albeit fictional ones, and fictional characters to connect them to. Not only that, I knew these people were representative, in a small way, of real people and real issues that, frankly, I had never been aware of. Why are we not told about this? Why isn’t this common knowledge? In all my readings of WWI, I never once came across the information on this genocide.
In addition to the historical aspect of this novel, however, is a love story fraught with grief, hope, despair, and lies. An odd combination perhaps, but that is what I’ve come to expect from Bohjalian’s books.
I very much recommend this book as well to fans of Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers – but even if you didn’t like that book, or never read it, please pick this one up and give it a shot. I think you will find yourself to be caught up in the story just as much as I was.
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