The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
Release date: 2012 / 320 pages
Synopsis (from Amazon.com): When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Aleppo, Syria she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The year is 1915 and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to help 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 and travels south into Egypt to join the British army, 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.
Review: Fiction can expose readers to historical events that few would choose to experience, but all must understand in order to plumb the depths of joy and despair that hinge on where and when an individual happens to be born.
Enter Laura Petrosian: a novelist usually focused on “domestic comedy about New Agey women on the social margins” decides to explore how her paternal grandparents survived the Armenian genocide — the “Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About” — and answer the question “How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing?” She begins her investigation in 1915 when Petrosian’s Bostonian grandmother, a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke, travels to Aleppo, Syria to escape a suitable match with a well-to-do young man in order to discover her own independent identity and help the “less fortunate.” What she finds is true love with a recently widowed Armenian engineer who she quickly falls in love with even in the midst of a massacre of unimaginable proportions.
In The Sandcastle Girls, Bohjalian successfully balances a poignant character-driven romance with an exploration of a chapter of history that is little-known yet unforgettable. Bohjalian was inspired to write this novel by his Armenian grandparents and grounds the narrative in historical facts about the genocide (his list of reference materials is exhaustive).
The Sandcastle Girls would be an excellent choice for a book club, satisfying readers who love a good story as well as those who prefer to learn a bit about history.
Thank you to Shelf Awareness for asking me to read and review this! Interested in a winning a free copy — leave me a comment!