The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
Published by: Doubleday a division of Random House July 17, 2012
Source: E-galley provided by Edelweiss and Random House
Elizabeth Endicott is a young woman from Boston, just graduated from Mount Holyoke. She is on the adventure of her life with her father. Silas Endicott believes in giving back, and he is on a humanitarian mission to help the Armenians in Aleppo,Syria. The year is 1915 and there is war between Turkey and the Armenians, and much more. Elizabeth has some rudimentary nursing skills and she is immediately thrust into caring for women and children that have been marched across the country. She also meets a young Armenian man, Armen, and he shares with her the terror and loss he has experienced.
Fast forward almost 100 years and meet Laura Petrosian. She’s a writer living in New York, married, mother of two and she’s aware of her Armenian heritage, but not very much. Her grandparents never shared much, her father didn’t tell her much either. She receives a phone call from a former college roommate that a picture of her grandmother is in the Boston paper. She expects to see a picture of Elizabeth Endicott and maybe her great grandfather as they had done work for the Friends of Armenia society, but what she sees is much more curious. She sees a picture of a woman identified as Petrosian, a picture she’d seen years before, but hadn’t connected a name. Laura begins a search that will bring her a much deeper knowledge of her grandparents and The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About. She will learn how a million and a half Armenians were killed, how a genocide occurred and was kept so secret.
A novel that reads like an intimate look into a family history, and a story that left me doing my own research of the Armenian Genocide, there is just so much I could say about The Sandcastle Girls. Chris Bohjalian has said this is the most important book he’s written, as he writes about his very own heritage, and in some ways the stories of his own grandparents, but with the fictional Elizabeth and Armen. I admit I knew very little about this part of history. I was constantly asking my husband if he knew this or that as I was reading this book, and he being the history buff knew more than I did. I had to Google maps and websites and I was saddened and felt such grief and anger that these events are still denied by many governments.
Chris Bohjalian has written this book with so much love that it was all consuming as I read. I loved the story of Elizabeth and the people she met and cared for in Syria. She left Boston innocent and then saw first hand how war can change a nation and it’s people. Reading the journey of Laura and how she had to dig deep to learn her heritage was eye opening. Most of my older relatives have passed away, and much of the history of my parents families with them. My Aunt was 97 when she died, and while her more recent memory was failing she could tell you stories of her youth, and her own grandparents with no problem. I don’t believe we know to cherish our own heritage in our youth, and sadly it all slips away too soon.
Bohjalian has honored his own family and his Armenian heritage with this book. I am so thankful he shared it with all of us too. This is a must read, and gets a 5 out of 5 stars. You can learn more about Chris on his website, and follow him on facebook and twitter.