In The Sandcastle Girls, Chris Bohjalian weaves a “spellbinding tale…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.”
~Synopsis for Hardcover edition via Goodreads
One woman’s journey into her family’s past reveals a shocking story that has never been told.
1915, Aleppo, Syria. When Elizabeth Endicott steps off the boat from Boston, armed only with a crash course in nursing, nothing could have prepared her for the atrocities she is about to face. For Aleppo is the arrival point for the hundreds of thousands of Armenians who have been forced to march out of Turkey and through the desert to die.
There Elizabeth gets to know Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter in the Genocide. When Armen travels to Egypt to join the British army, he begins to write to Elizabeth, and slowly realizes that, unless he can find his way back to her, he risks becoming lost forever.
Present day, New York. Laura Petrosian has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought until an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a photo of Laura’s grandmother advertising a museum exhibition. As Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history she’ll find a tale of love, loss – and the hidden story of a nation in mourning.
Review of The Sandcastle Girls
But history does matter. There is a line connecting the Armenians and the Jews and the Cambodians and the Bosnians and the Rwandans. There are obviously more, but, really, how much genocide can one sentence handle?
Aleppo, Syria, is in the news each day for its ravaging assaults by order of Syria’s president. Yet, Aleppo in the early 20th century saw inhumanities against Armenians. These were the Armenians who survived desert marches to Aleppo from Turkey.
In The Sandcastle Girls, Chris Bohjalian crosses decades while telling this story. Bohjalian uses a modern-day woman seeking facts of her grandmother’s Armenian heritage. Laura Petrosian sees an advertisement for a museum exhibit. In her quest, she uncovers history she might never had known otherwise. Her grandparents were an American girl who married an Armenian engineer. They never spoke of the past.
This is not a novel for the faint of heart. Most male Armenians die of gunshot wounds. Females are victims of brutal rape. If they are not dead, they must walk through the desert to Aleppo without food and water. Often many of the women are pregnant or have young children to carry on their backs or in their arms. Life is no better when they arrive in Aleppo. Left in the sun to dehydrate and starve, many eventually die.
Until reading The Sandcastle Girls, I had no knowledge of this earlier history in Aleppo. I had heard of the Ottoman Empire and its fall and, of course, I knew of Turkey. But what of the Armenians and their fateful journey? Nothing, not a thing.
Bohjalian’s writing style makes up for the heaviest parts of the whole. He paints images of the goodness shown by some as opposed to the evil forced on others by their enemies. And he weaves in a beautiful romance between Laura Petrosian’s grandparents. Love is not always easy, especially during the early 1900s and between different ethnicities. What we see, above all, is that not much is different today than it was in those long ago days.
Chris Bojhalian’s personal interest in his Armenian roots offers us The Sandcastle Girls.
For avid readers of historical fiction, you will find this book drawing you in from the beginning. Others may have difficulty with some of the more gritty parts. These scenes are softened with compassion and kindness for the Armenians by some.
I caution against allowing tweens and teens reading without supervision. And this for answering questions about man’s inhumanity to his fellow human beings. Some scenes might be frightening to the younger in the tween set.
Meet Chris Bohjalian
Follow Chris on Goodreads to see what he’s reading — and be among the first to learn about his next book and touring schedules.
Chris is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 19 books. His work has been translated into over 30 languages and three times become movies.
His new novel, “The Sleepwalker,” a story of a mother of two with a very rare form of parasomnia who disappears one summer night, arrives in January 2017.
His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Bookpage, and Salon.
His awards include the ANCA Freedom Award for his work educating Americans about the Armenian Genocide; the ANCA Arts and Letters Award for The Sandcastle Girls, as well as the Saint Mesrob Mashdots Medal; the New England Society Book Award for The Night Strangers; the New England Book Award; Russia’s Soglasie (Concord) Award for The Sandcastle Girls; a Boston Public Library Literary Light; a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Trans-Sister Radio; and the Anahid Literary Award. His novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. He is a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Connect with Chris Bohjalian: