Friday, June 29, 2012

The Sandcastle Girls: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian

The Sandcastle Girls
by Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Knopf 
Publication date: July 17, 2012
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Purchase: Barnes and Noble/Amazon/Book Depository


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.(synopsis from Goodreads)
"How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing? -- You kill them in the middle of nowhere." –Chris Bohjalian, The Sandcastle Girls

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian is one of the most beautiful and touching novels that I have ever had the pleasure to read. I just finished reading this and I sit her with puffy eyes and a heavy heart. This was both an epic family love story and a look at one of the most atrocious genocides in history. I am referring to the Armenian genocide that occurred between 1914 and 1917. I was amazed that this wasn’t taught during world history. Sadly my meager knowledge of the terror that reined in the desert of Der-el-Zor comes from an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles. Bohjalian beautifully brings this story to life, painting a tale and characters that will forever be etched in my heart.  

Inspired by his own family history Bohjalian brings this tale to life through the fictional character Laura Petrosian. She lives in present day America and is seeking information about her Armenian heritage and her late grandparents. Through her, Bohjalian takes us on a journey to Aleppo, Syria in the year 1915. American, Elizabeth Endicott, has just arrived with her father. They have come to assist the Armenian League of America. Thousands of refugees are pouring into Syria to escape the terror. Some are marched in by Turkish soldiers. Mostly woman and children; they are emancipated, naked and burned from the blazing sun. Here Elizabeth, her father and others work to save as many lives as they can. It is also here that Elizabeth will meet Armen. He is an Armenian who survived the onslaught in Van. His wife wife and daughter are believed to be dead. He is an engineer and is in Aleppo with soldiers working on railroads. The tale that unfolds transports us back and forth as Laura shares the story of what occurred in Aleppo and the grandparents she knew in America. Bohjalian weaves a tale that both opens your eyes to the tragedy the occurred and has you falling in love with the characters he has created. I literally consumed this novel as the tale swept me up. It is one, I will talk about, recommend, and remember forever.

The characters while fictional could just as easily have been real as Bohjalian weaves them through this time in history. I liked the narrator Laura. She was honest and feisty and brought such an air of authenticity to this story. She is someone I would like to share a cup of coffee with. Elizabeth while educated, caring and capable..is something of a wild child. I adored her and the way she stepped in to help. Armen’s story is touching and I was amazed at how he kept it together. Events revealed to us, shape the man he becomes and the grandfather Laura will come to admire. We met other characters in Aleppo that touched my heart. One in particular a nine year old girl named Hatoun. She survived the desert with the help of Nevert, but not before witnessing the horrific murder of her mother and sister. Karin’s story moved me to unspeakable tears. We meet allies and brave people who helped to get the story out.

Bohjalian’s world building was spectacular and eerily surreal. Already a proven artist, it is evident that he poured his heart and soul into these pages. He brings this dark, ominous, evil time in history to life all while shining a light on the good of those who tried to aid the Armenian’s plight. His characters have such depth that I find it hard to believe they didn’t exist. He painstakingly portrayed these horrific atrocities against human life. Even in the darkest corners of my mind I cannot fathom how any human could commit such acts. Please understand that while the events occurring in this novel are dark, the author also brings light and joy into the tale. Through his characters, I laughed, giggled and experienced moments of true joy. The romance that spanned a lifetime was beautiful, bittersweet and left me feeling warm and fuzzy.

I highly recommend this thought provoking saga to fans of historical fiction. Anyone who wants to learn more about what historians and politicians covered up for the sake of allies and diplomatic ties should read The Sandcastle Girls. Bohjalian is forever on my auto-buy list and I look forward to his next endeavor. Bravo and well done Chris!

I want to thank Knopf Publishing and netGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for my unbiased review. 

I gave this novel 5 cups of coffee out of 5. 
Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer Kimba The Caffeinated Book Reviewer Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer


See my review of The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian here
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11 Comments:

At June 29, 2012 at 6:50 AM , Blogger Pam said...

This was a fantastic book and you did it the justice it deserved with a fantastic review.

As I sat here reading your review, it took right back into the story.

Good job, Kim and I am so happy that you loved this one as much as I did.

 
At June 29, 2012 at 7:31 AM , Blogger Nick said...

Oh wow ! It seems like you really really enjoyed this book, Kimberly.
I love books that can be thought-provoking and mind-openers and this seems exactly that.
Really glad you loved it so much.
Your review was very intense ! :)

 
At June 29, 2012 at 9:12 AM , Blogger Blodeuedd said...

Now this sound really different and I have not read a fiction book about these events before. I do think I would enjoy it

 
At June 29, 2012 at 11:00 AM , Blogger Catherine Coffman said...

I *love* this author - I got this one from NetGalley and I can't wait to read it! Glad you liked it!

 
At June 29, 2012 at 3:01 PM , Blogger Melissas Eclectic Bookshelf said...

Wow...what a review (perhaps the best of your's I've read) and I definitely will move this one to my TBR shelf now.

 
At June 29, 2012 at 5:10 PM , Anonymous April @ My Shelf Confessions said...

I didn't read your review because I haven't read this yet - but I was so excited that Bohjalian said this is his most important writing he's done so far. I LOOOOOVED The Night Strangers with all my heart and I know this one is probably a lot different, but SOO intrigued. Bohjalian is definitely a great writer and I eventually plan to read everything he writes/has written. :D

So glad to see that you've given this a 5 rating - awesome that you loved it! Can't wait until I can too!

 
At June 29, 2012 at 9:59 PM , Blogger Loupe Duffy said...

Excellent review Kimba! It has me wanting to try something way outside my usual reads.

 
At June 30, 2012 at 11:24 AM , Blogger rings90 said...

Chris mentions the film " Ararat" In one of his chapters. If you have not seen this film, please do so. Its available on DVD.

I was also crying at the end of this book. The whole story is told so honestly and at the same time with such horror happening all around the characters, its hard not to get attached to them all.

I can't wait for this book to come out, I will be recommending it to all of my customers.

 
At June 30, 2012 at 4:02 PM , Blogger Dalene @ A Date with a Book said...

I was able to snag this from Netgalley but haven't read it yet. I'm so excited to read it after reading your review. I love a great historical fiction book and it has been a while. Thanks for your thoughts!

 
At July 2, 2012 at 9:24 AM , Blogger Meg @ A Bookish Affair said...

Ooo, you've made me even more excited to read this book!

 
At July 3, 2012 at 3:12 PM , Blogger Kat Balcombe said...

I'm a huge fan of Chris Bohjalian and The Sandcastle Girls is coming up very soon on my reading pile - you've made me even more excited to read it!

 

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