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The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

 

Over the course of his career, New York Times bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian has taken readers on a spectacular array of journeys. Midwives brought us to an isolated Vermont farmhouse on an icy winter’s night and a home birth gone tragically wrong. The Double Bind perfectly conjured the Roaring Twenties on Long Island—and a young social worker’s descent into madness. And Skeletons at the Feast chronicled the last six months of World War Two in Poland and Germany with nail-biting authenticity. As The Washington Post Book World has noted, Bohjalian writes “the sorts of books people stay awake all night to finish.”

In his fifteenth book, The Sandcastle Girls, he brings us on a very different kind of journey. This spellbinding tale travels between Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 and Bronxville, New York, in 2012—a sweeping historical love story steeped in the author’s Armenian heritage, making it his most personal novel to date.

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.

“Chris Bohjalian is at his very finest in this searing story of love and war. I was mesmerized from page one. Bravo!” —Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife

“In his latest novel, master storyteller Chris Bohjalian explores the ways in which our ancestral past informs our contemporary lives—in ways we understand and ways that remain mysteriously out of reach. The Sandcastle Girls is deft, layered, eye-opening, and riveting. I was deeply moved.” —Wally Lamb, author of The Hour I First Believed

“Bohjalian’s powerful novel . . . depicts the Armenian genocide and one contemporary novelist’s quest to uncover her heritage. . . . His storytelling makes this a beautiful, frightening, and unforgettable read.” —Publishers Weekly

“Bohjalian powerfully narrates an intricately nuanced romance with a complicated historical event at the forefront. With the centennial of the Armenian genocide fast approaching, this is not to be missed. Simply astounding.” —Julie Kane, Library Journal (starred)

“An unforgettable exposition of the still too-little-known facts of the Armenian genocide and its multigenerational consequences.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“A powerful and moving story based on real events seldom discussed. It will leave you reeling.” —Elizabeth Dickie, Booklist

My Review

Love and war.

This story of fiction deals with events from the past that are true.

The author successfully ingrains in your mind the stark reality of war and the tragic accounts of the brave characters contained within.

Women who have lost it all, no clothes on their backs or food to eat eyewitness to brutal slaying and murder of their kin to live and tell the tale.

 

You will learn of the genocide of 1915, a time of slaughter ‘The Great Catastrophe,’ a year you possibly wont forget once you finished reading this story.

A people unknown to many disappeared. The plight of the Armenian people will weigh heavily in your heart and thoughts.

 

You will have a lesson in loss and new-found love, human courage and perseverance in the face of human tragedy and adversity. This story is a testimony on how these characters, and people in general, can move forward in life and have another chance to make a future and have some normality, be happy, with this distant but close to heart tragedy in their past.

 

One I hope Oprah picks up as part of her book club, I definitely recommend it.

He does it right telling as it is when he writes, making us feel the smells, the colors, places and the people.

This did not get high rating from me for thrill or eloquent prose but for the truth the story talks with of the darkness of hearts and the stark consequences of hatred and racism.

 

“That belly dancing may also give you the impression that my childhood was rather exotic. It wasn’t. Most of my childhood was unexceptionably suburban, either in a tiny commuter enclave outside of Manhattan or in Miami, Florida. But my grandparents’ house was different. My aunt really did belly dance until she was forty, and there really were hookah pipes ( no longer used, as far as i know), plush oriental carpets, and thick leather books filled with an alphabet i could not begin to decipher. There was always the enveloping aroma of cooked lamb and mint, because my grandfather insisted on lamb chops even for breakfast: lamb chops and a massive cereal bowl filled with Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Puffs, eaten with yogurt instead of milk.”

 

“You think i want to demonize the Turks. I don’t harbor no grudge. The first boy i ever kissed-seriously kissed, that is, not dry, awkward pecks on the cheek or the lips-was Turkish. He knew i was Armenian. I knew he was Turkish. Hormones mattered far more than history.”

 

“They were somewhere in the desert between Adana and Aleppo. The women were sitting upright, their legs straight before them and their hands tied to the stake behind them so the pole pressed hard against their spines. Then six gendarmes took their swords and mounted their horses, and each took a turn racing toward the captives at high speed, and-as if it were a mere cavalry exercise-decapitated one of the women. Hatoun’s mother had been the last woman to die, and so she had witnessed five heads fall into the hot sand like coconuts, including her older daughter’s.”

 

“But Armenian adults? They would sooner be flogged, stripped, scorched, shot, smothered, stabbed, starved, bayoneted, decapitated, drowned, crucified, asphyxiated, eviscerated, axed, hanged, garroted, quartered, pitchforked, impaled, and (if they were female) “outraged.”(This is another word you don’t hear often anymore, at least as a Victorian synonym for rape.) They would sooner succumb to dysentery, typhus, malaria, cholera, pneumonia, infection, sepsis, and the flu. These are all of the ways in which Armenian civilians died in the First World War- at least all of the ways i came across in eyewitness testimonies. Undoubtedly, there are more.”

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating
Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 20 July 2012

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