The Sandcastle Girls

The Sandcastle Girls

by Chris Bohjalian

Overview: In Chris Bohjalian's 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.

Debbie Weiss (10/20/16): This is the type of book that gives you a bit of a history lesson while telling a love story. I was not aware that there was a genocide of the Armenian people at the hand of the Turks in the early 1900's. So much of what I read in this book reminded me of the many stories I have read over the years involving the holocaust. In the midst of all this horror, love blossoms between Eilzabeth Edicott, a wealthy young lady from Boston, and Arman, an Armenian engineer who has lost both his wife and his infant daughter. I expected to be totally engrossed with the characters and their stories, but honestly, I just did not really connect with any of the characters. I am not sure why, but I was never anxious to pick up the book to continue reading after I put it down. Most of the reviews I read on line agreed with Judy's very positive review, but I guess each person's reading experience is different.
Rating: ***

Judy Stanton (01/29/13): I am an admitted Chris Bohjalian fan, saw him years ago at the Jewish Book Festival, and still can recall his great storytelling ability. The Sandcastle Girls is an amazing story of the genocide of Armenians by the Turks in the early 1900s, where 1.5 million were brutally murdered, in Nazi-like fashion. I admit to sneaking a peek at the acknowledgements as I was reading to learn that the story is close to home for the author, loosely based on experiences of his grandparents. He flips back and forth, from present day New England, to 1912, with the love story of an American woman meeting an Armenian man, set in Syria amidst the tragic killings and degradation of a people. The current day story of the granddaughter researching this story often reveals twists and turns in the plot. The epilogue adds to this compelling story, reminiscent of many that I have read about Holocaust survivors. Historical Fiction at its best.
Rating: *****

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