I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.
There are some authors whose books have predictable themes and structure. You know exactly what you will get each time you pick up a new offering from the author. And then there is Chris Bohjalian. If I put all of his books on a table and asked you to guess who authored each one, I doubt most readers would group them under the same author. There is such a wide variety of subject matter and this is one of the things that makes Bohjalian so interesting to read. I absolutely loved his most recent work, THE NIGHT STRANGERS, which felt like a mashup of "Rosemary's Baby" and "Wicker Man." I loved the suspense and downright scariness of the book. His newest work, THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS, could not be more different.
In SANDCASTLE GIRLS, Bohjalian explores his Armenian heritage. Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Aleppo, Syria in 1915 along with her father and other American aid workers in an attempt to help the Armenian refugees streaming into the area. Elizabeth sees firsthand the effects of the genocide of the Armenian people at the hands of the Turks. While Elizabeth is in Aleppo, she befriends an Armenian engineer named Armen who has lost his wife and baby girl in the genocide. When Armen leaves to join the British army in Egypt, Elizabeth stays in Aleppo and begins a correspondance with him that helps their friendship blossom into love. Elizabeth and Armen's story is juxtaposed with that of their daughter, Laura Petrosian, in the present day. When an old friend calls Laura claiming to have seen a photo of her grandmother at a Boston museum, Laura begins to dig into her family history and uncovers long-hidden secrets about her grandparents and her Armenian heritage.
SANDCASTLE GIRLS is a love story set against a backdrop of war and genocide. But it is more than that. It is also the story of a family and their history and secrets. It is a story about the effects of war and genocide and the horrible and far-reaching effects that both can have. It is a story about a time and place that is barely recognized by the world at large. I found the story incredibly moving.
I knew absolutely NOTHING about the Armenian genocide before reading this book. Why do we choose to highlight the atrocities against one group over another. Why are some genocides well-known and others hidden away? The book definitely raised a lot of questions for me.
BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A beautiful story of war and love and family. Definitely a huge eye-opener about a little known genocide---one whose story needs to be told.