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.

13 thoughts on “The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

  1. The Gendarme was about the Armenian genocide but I felt like it assumed you had prior knowledge before you read the book so I struggled with it. I’m anxious to read this book to learn more about it. I love Bohjalian’s writing.


  2. I had put this on my list when I first heard about it and am glad you enjoyed it.

    Hope your week is a good one, Mary!


  3. I have heard that this is a very powerful read, and that many have loved it. I actually don’t know much about the Armenian genocide, and need to find out more. Your review was wonderful and clear, and I can see why you enjoyed this books so very much. Thanks for sharing this with us!


  4. I enjoyed this one as well Mary – well I know it sounds weird to say enjoy but you know what I mean. I listened to it and it was a fantastic book to listen to. I hope to have a review up soon. Chris is becoming a favorite author of mine quickly!


  5. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this one, so I definitely hope to read it at some point. I only learned more about the Armenian Genocide earlier this year when I read The Gendarme, which was just an okay book, so I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.


  6. Such a delightful cover, I would never have guessed the book was all about these atrocities. As you say not a thing that many people know much about, I know I don’t, this sounds like one of those books that no matter how harrowing we should be reading.


  7. Exactly the reason I love historical fiction – learning about an event or time period you knew little about. This one’s already on my wishlist. Enjoyed your review Mary


  8. This is on my wish list and I do need to tell my friend, Carl, as his great aunt was one of the survivors of the long march. She told him stories of atrocities that were committed and they are heartbreaking.


  9. I have a review copy of this book and will be reading it. It can be hard to read about atrocities so I am glad that you shared that so I can be prepared. It sounds like a part of history that has not been talked about very much.


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