The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

Title: The Sandcastle Girls

Author: Chris Bohjalian

Genre: Historical Fiction

Published: July 2012 – Doubleday

Hardcover – 320 pages

Synopsis: (from the book flap) 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.

My take: I want to thank John Pitts from Doubleday for sending me a copy of this important novel. Important because I wonder how many people actually know about the Armenian Genocide that occurred in the early 20th century. I don’t recall learning about it in a high school world history class. This book is why I like to read Historical Fiction. Yes, I love a good story but I also like to learn.

The Sandcastle Girls was a difficult book to read because of the atrocities inflicted on the Armenian people. Despite how difficult it was to read, I cared about Bohjalian’s characters as they lived day to day, event to event, moment to moment. Aleppo came alive with the descriptions of sights, smells and sounds giving me a definite sense of the town. The scenes of atrocities both in war and the genocide are vivid. I point that out because it might be too much for some readers. That said, I don’t know how the book could not include those scenes.

In any case, the short answer to that first question – How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing? – is really very simple. You kill them in the middle of nowhere.

The Sandcastle Girls page 273

The story is told by Laura, a writer and the granddaughter of the two main characters. She writes the story of her grandparents which becomes part of Bohjalian’s novel. The past and present are woven together and come to an emotional conclusion.

I recommend this book to fans of Historical Fiction and Chris Bohjalian.

Note: You can read more about The Sandcastle Girls at Chris Bohjalian’s website.

Disclosure: I received a book for review from the publisher. I was not compensated for my review.