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The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

The Sandcastle Girls (2012)

by Chris Bohjalian

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75810212,240 (3.9)39
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This was an interesting story that switched between 1915 and the present within the context of the genocide of the Armenian people in Turkey. In 1915, American Elizabeth Endicott goes to Syria to provide assistance to the Armenians driven out of Turkey and falls in love with Armenian engineer Armen Petrosian, whose wife and daughter had already been killed. Then in present day, Laura Petrosian is researching and writing the story of her grandparents, Elizabeth and Armen, during that time and discovering things that her grandparents never talked about.

There was a lot of sadness in the story because of all the atrocities that were committed. Fortunately, Elizabeth and Armend survive and go to America but there is a bittersweet twist near the end which is not fortunate. This was a solid story but I didn’t like it as much as some of his others. ( )
  gaylebutz | Mar 25, 2015 |
I loved this book in spite of a bit too much coincidence at the ending. The Armenian genocide is surely one of the world's most horrible crimes and yet it is hardly recognized. It is said that history is told by the victors and in this case, there really weren't any victors: the Ottoman Empire disintegrated and the Armenians scattered.

This story is actually set in Aleppo Syria where thousands of Armenians are driven into resettlement camps after being forced out of Turkey by the Turks. WWI finds the Germans fighting on the side of the Turks. An American doctor of Armenian descent and his daughter Elizabeth, a recent graduate of Mt. Holyoke, go to Aleppo to help provide medical relief to the refugees. They stay in the American consulate, a palace compared to the dwellings of Aleppo. Elizabeth soon hardens herself to the harsh surroundings and meets Armen Petrosian, an Armenian engineer. Elizabeth and Armen eventually become the great grandparents of the narrator. Switching from contemporary times and the narrator's search for information and the early 1900's, the story gradually unfolds set in the midst of the horrid circumstances of the Armenian refugees. Central to the story is a series of photographs of the refugees taken by German engineers which are eventually smuggled out of the country making the world aware of the atrocities.

I love Bohjalian's historical fiction (wasn't as fond of his contemporary stories), and this was compelling and interesting leading me to read much more about Armenia and the genocide. The Turks feared the Armenians were conspiring with the Russians during the war; thus their fear. Most of the Armenians are Christian, the Turks Muslims; however, very little is made of the religious issues. The background of WWI provides the setting.

I did feel as if Bohjalian's purpose was really to tell the story of the genocide and he created characters to make it personal. The ending involves a scene where Elizabeth meets Armen's first wife, Karine, who supposedly died in the dreadful march across the desert from Armenia to Allepo. The ending is just a bit too pat, but minor weakness in a powerful story of a dreadful time in history that is virtually unknown. ( )
  maryreinert | Feb 1, 2015 |
Chris Bohjalian's moving story of humanity and love in the midst of brutality switches back and forth from the present to the near-genocide by Turkey of the 1.5 million Armenians living in their country in 1915, an atrocity Turkey has never admitted to or apologized for. Armen, a young Armenian engineer, has lost his wife and baby daughter to the purge, and falls in love with Elizabeth Endicott, who has volunteered with her father to provide food and aid to the Armenian refugees. What follows is a harrowing tale of humanity at its worst as Armen struggles to stay alive to return to the village where Elizabeth is volunteering at a hospital. The story switches frequently to the present, where a granddaughter of Elizabeth and Armen is trying to learn the truth that her grandparents have never talked about. The final chapter or two contains unexpected turns that will wrench at the reader's heart. One of Bohjalian's better ones. ( )
  burnit99 | Nov 23, 2014 |
I find it very hard to boil down my judgement of some books to how many stars I would rate them. This is not a book that I either like or don't like. This book is hard. That is not to say it is bad, or not worth the read, but it is not something you should pick up expecting a quick or easy read.

I will be 100% honest here and say that I read this book solely because of its Armenian author and setting. I read this because I felt I should read it, not because I necessarily wanted to.

This book dealt with a lot all at once. Individually, any one of the atrocities described in the book would be terrible. Together, they make up a terrifying, incomprehensible, almost mind-numbing narrative that is hard to deal with all at once. This is a book that I put down and picked up many times, because sometimes I needed time to absorb the story. The dual story lines, Laura's in the present day, and Elizabeth's almost 100 years earlier, did a little to break up, though not lighten, the story. However, the book was well written, and I didn't feel that there was any exploitation of the terrible events that occurred. To describe anything less than what really happened would do a disservice to the real people who lived through it, in my opinion.

This is, at its heart, really a book about history. It is obviously historical fiction, but it also deals with Laura coming to terms with her family history. The end of the book leaves us to make our own conclusions about the history, conclusions about what is "right" and what is "wrong," if those are even two concepts we can apply in this case. It raised more than a few questions in my mind, about the value of discovering our history, or what the effect of unearthing a long kept secret is. Should we seek out our ancestor's history even if we may not be entirely happy with what we find there?

This is a story about loss, secrets, happiness and sadness, finding and losing love, and how far a person will go to protect those they love. I read it a month ago and I am still thinking about it- and I do not think that is only because I am Armenian, but because the themes brought up in the book apply to everybody, regardless of ancestry.

Obviously one of the events that most stuck with me was Armen's wife's suicide attempt, and the resulting death in the hospital which caused Elizabeth to even have a secret to keep. I first tried to rationalize it by saying she was weak, and couldn't stand to see that he loved another woman. She didn't want to stand up and tell him that she was still alive. But, she survived what had happened up until that point, how could such a person be weak? So, could it have been love for her husband that drove her actions? She saw that he had found happiness and wanted him to have that? Or was it a little of both?
  kateminasian | Nov 22, 2014 |
If you know nothing about the Armenian genocide, which began around the beginning of World War I, before the United States entered the war, you'll know enough after reading THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS to want to know more.That's what good books do: while they entertain, they also teach, and they intrigue us enough to look up further information. And this is a really good book.

THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS is two stories: one, the story that Laura, a writer, tells in first person about her research for a book about her grandparents, survivors of the Armenian genocide, and, two, the story she writes along with the secret she uncovers.You may find that the parts of the book that tell of Laura's research are a relief after you read the other parts that describe the Armenian genocide. That is because, although THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS is fiction, the Armenian genocide is real horror. In the absence of actual pictures, Chris Bohjalian is sometimes graphic enough that pictures of the genocide will be in your head.

The story of Laura's grandparents, though, is not horrible. It's a love story in the midst of horror that some countries, the United States included, have yet to OFFICIALLY recognize as genocide. Why? Perhaps because some of the Armenians who the Turks accidentally left alive were not passive. ( )
  techeditor | Oct 19, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385534795, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:07 -0400)

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"Parallel stories of a woman who falls in love with an Armenian soldier during the Armenian Genocide and a modern-day New Yorker prompted to rediscover her Armenian past"--

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