Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Sandcastle Girls

Until this past summer, I had never read any of Chris Bohjalian's books. They were popular, and, from what I heard, quite good, but they seemed a little... too bookclub-y for me. But when I coworker showed me a copy of his latest book, The Sandcastle Girls, and said it had something to do with the Armenian Genocide, I had to at least give it a shot.

The Sandcastle Girls is the sweeping story of Elizabeth Endicott, a Boston-area society girl who travels to Aleppo in 1915 to bring aid to Armenian refuges, and of Laura Petrosian, a current-day novelist struggling to understand her own heritage. Bohjalian has said that this is the most important book he'll ever write, and without even having read anything else by him, I'm inclined to agree.

While there are a number of books out there that tell the story of the Armenian Genocide (The Road From Home by David Kherdian specifically comes to mind because it is a Newbery Award Honor book), there are almost none that tell the historical facts without becoming overly preachy or dull. As an Armenian who has studied the genocide, I know that too many of these facts too quickly can turn readers away, especially if they went into the reading not knowing the history. Bohjalian, however, metes out the historical facts at just the right tempo to keep readers interested but not flat-out horrified. Perhaps because the 1915 parts of the story are told not by an Armenian but by a Westerner, the reader learns the facts as she does, in bits and pieces. Even the present-day parts of the story are told by someone searching to understand her heritage, so we the readers are invited along to learn with her.

Historical facts aside, the emotions and relationships in this book are wonderful. It is a fish-out-of-water romance set in the most desperate of situations. My mother and I argued over the ending - I loved it, she HATED it - but we both loved the book as a whole. If everyone in my family hadn't already read this one, I'd be giving it for gifts at Christmas, no question.

1 comment:

  1. I recommend reading The Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian which talks about his Armenia relatives.