The Sandcastle Girls is a sweeping historical love story steeped in Chris Bohjalian's Armenian heritage.
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.
Fast forward to the present day, 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.
The young woman, twenty-one, walks gingerly down the dusty street between her father and the American consul here in Aleppo, an energetic fellow almost her fathers age named Ryan Donald Martin, and draws the scarf over her hair and her cheeks. The men are detouring around the square near the base of the citadel because they dont yet want her to see the deportees who arrived here last night--there will be time for that soon enough--but she fears she is going to be sick anyway. The smell of rotting flesh, excrement, and the July heat are conspiring to churn her stomach far worse than even the trip across the Atlantic had weeks earlier. She feels clammy and weak-kneed and reaches out for her fathers elbow to steady herself. Her father, in turn, gently taps her fingers with his hand, his vague and abstracted attempt at a comforting gesture.
Miss Endicott, do you need to rest? You look a little peaked, the consul says, and she glances at him. His ...
The Sandcastle Girls is a book within a book. The overlaying tale is of Laura Petrosian, a middle-aged American novelist who becomes obsessed with learning her grandparents’ story. Interwoven with Laura’s first-person narrative is the text of the book she’s writing: a fictionalized account of her grandparents’ meeting in Aleppo, Syria set against the backdrop of the Armenian genocide and during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Bohjalian will almost certainly have another entry on the bestseller lists with The Sandcastle Girls; the novel will appeal to a wide variety of readers, particularly those who enjoy historical fiction.
(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Full Review (566 words).
The word "genocide" was coined in 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish Polish legal scholar, although it didn't enter common usage until the Nuremberg trials (the criminal prosecution of those responsible for the Holocaust). The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines it as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [...
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