Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Sandcastle Girls, April Book

The year 2015 marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, and Chris Bohjalian’s novel, “The Sandcastle Girls,’’  represents just the beginning of what will be a steady stream of publications remembering this tragedy. Unlike his mystery books, this one is a historical romance.

Laura is a writer, mother of two, and granddaughter of Elizabeth and Armen Petrosian. She has happy memories of her visits to her grandparents’ comfortable Long Island home, with its “plush Oriental carpets, and thick leather books filled with an alphabet I could not begin to decipher,” and the perpetual aroma of the lamb chops her grandfather ate for breakfast. But she has always been struck by the “relentless formality” of the house, and decides to research what may have fed the “subterranean currents of loss” she invariably sensed in her grandparents’ presence.

Her quest takes her back to 1915, when the rulers of the Ottoman Empire used World War I as an opportunity to exterminate the Armenian minority, whom they feared might ally itself with the Russians. Many Armenians were outright massacred; many more were exiled on forced death marches through the desert. 

Through Elizabeth and Armen’s travels and travails, we are taken from the battleground of Gallipoli to the concentration camp of Dar-El-Zor, meeting missionaries, soldiers, and victims along the way. Bohjalian (three of his four Armenian grandparents died in the genocide and war) resists caricature and presents this appalling history largely through the eyes of its victims and those who valiantly try to help them.

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