Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

There are some authors whose works you will always like. Chris Bohjalian is one of those novelists. In The Sandcastle Girls, Bohjalian centers his story around the Armenian Genocide of 1915. It truly amazes me that as much as I have studied history, read books, and watched movies, I was very unaware of this horrible event.

Bohjalian deftly weaves the account from the present to the past as he reveals the heinous slaughter of the Armenian people. Inspired to learn more about her granndparents' past, Laura Petrosian is the present day narrator who retells their story through the eyes of her Boston Brahman grandmother, Elizabeth Endicott. Elizabeth, a recent Mt. Holyoke graduate with some training in nursing travels to Aleppo with her father. She is there to help with the humanitarian aid. In addition, she is chronicling her time there through letters that she is writing to The Friends of Armenia. The description of the conditions were difficult to read and were a rude awakening. Laura wonders how so many people could be killed without the world knowing. The answer she gives is that they were killed in the middle of nowhere. 

While in Aleppo, Elizabeth meets Armen, an engineer who is mourning the abduction of his wife and daughter. The two become close just as Armen is urged to flee the area to save his life. He embarks on a course that will change his life and Elizabeth's. Ancillary characters include Helmut, a German who is outraged at what his country is doing, who is photography the atrocities, Hatoun, a young girl who witnessed her mother's slaughter and is mute, and Nevart who took Hatoun under her wing.

Laura also relates some of the stories she remembers as a child, but mourns that her grandparents never shared more of their life. Her recollections and her own story are captivating and engaging. But then a photograph is discovered and a strange twist to her family tree is unearthed. 

The Sandcastle Girls  is complex, illuminating, and intertwines the present and past as only a master storyteller could. It becomes an even more compelling novel when you realize that Bohjahlian has been inspired by his heritage and the lives of his grandparents. As the reader finishes the epilogue, the story comes full circle and the emotional drain that one has felt throughout the book reaches an astounding climax. 

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