Friday, September 27, 2013

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian (audio)

"But history does matter.  There is a line connecting the Armenians and the Jews and the Cambodians and the Bosnians and the Rwandans.  There are obviously more, but, really, how much genocide can one sentence handle?"

The Sandcastle Girls is the first novel I have read by Chris Bohjalian and I loved it!   Deeply moving and unforgettable, the book centers around the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and tells the story of Elizabeth, a young girls from America and an Armenian soldier named Armen.  After refusing to marry, young Elizabeth arrives in Aleppo, Syria with her father to aid Armenian refugees during World War I.  Elizabeth is horrified by the conditions that the refugees are in and is overwhelmed by their situation and tragic pasts.  She makes many connections with the Armenian people, including Armen, a young engineer.  Just as they begin to realize their feelings for one another, Armen travels to Eqypt to enlist in the British army.   Throughout the next year, they write each other letters and begin to fall in love.  Years later, Elizabeth's grand-daughter, Laura, researchers the story of her grandparents and learns of the tragedies and secrets that they both overcame.

I really liked that the novel centers on two narrators in different time periods - Elizabeth in 1915 and Laura in the present.  As Laura was learning more and more about her grandparent's history, Elizabeth was living through it in the past.  Like the author mentioned in an interview, Laura's narrative also gave the readers a much needed escape from the horrors of the Armenian Genocide.

This is the first time that I have really read anything about the Armenian Genocide.  The narrator of Laura often refers to this time of the "tragedy that you know next to nothing about" and it couldn't be more true.  I've spend a lot of time reading and learning about the holocaust and I was really surprised at how similar these events were - and how little I knew about the circumstances of the Armenians.  Over 1.5 million people were killed during this time and I'm not sure why so little is known about it.  History is interesting that way - and Bohjalian did an amazing job of writing a tribute to the Armenian people that was sad and beautiful and filled with hope.

This book was #3 on my top ten list of 2013.

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