Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
Published July 2012 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought this one for my Nook to read with my book club

Publisher's Summary:
When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Syria, she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke College, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The First World War is spreading across Europe, and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to 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 to join the British Army in Egypt, 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.

Flash forward to the present, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed the “Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss—and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.

My Thoughts:
I picked this book for my book club for two reasons, I've been wanting to read some Bohjalian for a long time and I felt like the subject matter was something that could really tie in with world events right now.

Bohjalian certainly has a story to tell here and the events of the Armenian genocide and the war the helped to hide it made for an interesting read. When I could get past the often confusing structure of the thing. Bohjalian uses multiple points of view and both third-person and first-person narrators. He switches rapidly between points of view and I often had to go back a few sentences to try to figure out whose story I was reading about now. Worse yet, it made it harder for me to get emotionally involved in the story. And it's a story that should break your heart.

I was grateful to Bohjalian for the way he consistently was able to bring the worst of the outrages to light but pull away before it became too difficult to continue. I was also grateful for the incentive to look into the Armenian genocide more deeply - and to compare what happened then to what happened to the Jews twenty plus years later in Germany and again today in Syria. It's about hatred and the ease with which people are willing to decide an entire race of people is less than human.
"My name is not "YOU PEOPLE." But an alien from another world trying to make sense of some of the conversations I have had with virtual strangers over the years might suppose that it is." 
Sounds like a lot of what I hear daily. It's a first step onto a very slippery slope.
"...the short answer to that first question - How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing? - is really very simple. You kill them in the middle of nowhere."
That's what happened to the Armenians when the Turks drove them into the desert of Syria. It's also what happened when the Nazi's first walled off the Jews then put them onto trains and took them out into the country. Think it can't happen again? All it takes is for the world to decide they don't want to get involved, that they can't go against a country that's an ally. Let The Sandcastle Girls be a wake up call.

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