21 July 2012

Review: Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

Published: 17 July 2012 by Knopf Doubleday

Pages: 320 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Historical Fiction

Source: Publisher for review

Check It Out: Goodreads ~ Amazon ~ Amazon UK ~ The Book Depository

More Info: Chris Bohjalian's website

Synopsis (Goodreads)

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

Hands up who's heard of the Amernian genocide during World War I? I certainly hadn't, so when I learnt that Chris Bohjalian's newest book drew from both his own Armenian background, and the Armenian genocide, it instantly had my attention.

Told in alternating POVs and across two timeframes, The Sandcastle Girls is set in 1915 Syria and 2012 USA, as an author seeks more information on her grandparents, Armenian Armen and Bostonian Elizabeth and the atrocities of the Armenian genocide, something that was hinted at, but never spoken openly about. Unexpectedly, there is also a dip into the horrific failure of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign that really hit home with me as an Australian.

This is a gripping, emotional, intense read that took me on a journey through a part of history that I, ignorantly, know very little about. The writing is languid yet intense, and sympathetically tells a shocking story, whilst encompassing a love story that seems improbable but is completely believable.

The characters are so varied, yet so connected to each other that there was not a single POV that I didn't enjoy as much as the others - from the main characters through to the damaged girl, Hatoum, the German engineers, the outwardly calm yet inwardly broken Nevart - all were vivid, realistic chacters.

The Sandcastle Girls is certainly not a book for the light-hearted, and there were times I literally had to step away from it to stop my emotions boiling over - the plight of the Armenians is incredibly heartbreaking and at times gruesome. This is a book that will stick with me for a long, long time, and if you have any interest in this subject at all, I can highly recommend The Sandcastle Girls.


  1. I know nothing of the Armenian genocide (other than some of System of a Down's lyrics), but this seems like one of those books that produces a lovely though heartwrenching story, but also gives a sense of a little-known (to me, anyway) part of history. I felt this way after reading Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray. Great review. I look forward to reading this.

  2. It scares me how many horrors that aren't known about, more and more keep coming to the surface. This sounds like a book I will pick up at some point, even if I'm tiring a little of split timeline narrative.

  3. I've heard of the genocide because I took a course on genocide in college. What I didn't know was that that was the subject of this book...certainly couldn't tell the subject was so heavy from the cover. This definitely went on my tbr when I learned that!

  4. Just saw this review. I heard the author speak at a great independent bookstore in Vermont over the summer. It was very interesting. Much of the book is based on his own personal family history, it was brewing in him for many years before he wrote it. Someone asked why he wrote in the voice of a woman, which flummoxed him briefly, and then he said something to the effect that women are more interesting. Can't argue there...



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