The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
Published: 2012 by Doubleday
Source: Borrowed from the Library
Chris Bohjalian’s newest novel sheds light on a moment in history that has been virtually ignored — the Armenian genocide in 1915. Referred to in the novel as the Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About, it is a tragedy that we do not know more about this. However, I was dissatisfied with the story.
Part of the story is set in the aftermath of the genocide in Aleppo, Syria, where Elizabeth Endicott accompanies her father from Boston to distribute aid to the refugees invading the town after being expelled from Armenia by the Turks and forced to walk essentially to their deaths. Though her father attempts to shelter her from the worst of the horrible conditions, Elizabeth wants to help as much as she can and steps in to do even the most menial tasks. She meets a woman who has not only survived the death march but has with her a young girl who was orphaned along the way; as well as a young Armenian man, Armen Petrosian, who was miraculously one of the few men not to have been massacred, but who lost his wife and infant daughter in the exodus.
The other part of the story is set in the present day and it is the first person narrative of Laura Petrosian. Laura is a novelist and upon viewing a photo in a museum exhibit about the genocide she decides to explore her grandparents’ history in detail. With this set-up, I had an expectation – of what I’m not exactly sure, but I guess I was looking for some incredibly shocking secrets to be revealed that would have changed the course of history, if only for the Petrosian family. One particular secret does have quite an impact on how the novel unfolds, but to me it doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. And one of the final discoveries Laura makes while on a book tour felt “thrown in”; it related to the overall story of the novel, but it still seemed to come out of left field.
That said, I do think the book is important for its depiction of the Armenian genocide and hopefully it will spark readers like me to endeavor to learn more about it.