Monday, July 16, 2012

Julie's Review: The Sandcastle Girls

Summary: 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. ~amazon.com

Review: The Sandcastle Girls moved me in ways that are hard to put down. It made me thankful that humans can persevere through the worst kinds of atrocities. This story kept me up the night I finished it because I couldn't get it out of my mind. It is one that will stay with me for a long time.

We are introduced to this story by Laura Petrosian, who tells us that she wanted to write a book about her grandparents and their experiences during the Armenian genocide. Every chapter starts off with Laura's point of view on what she has found out about her grandparents involvement and then shifts point of views to Elizabeth and Armen during the genocide. With a less experienced author, this could have been a mis-step but with Mr. Bohjalian it was seamless.

Elizabeth was a women before her time and yet she fit perfectly into her role as a caregiver to the refugees. She wanted to help where she could and put to use her limited nursing knowledge. Where she excels is when she's dealing with the women and children that have recently been marched in from various cities. She tries to help in any way she can. It is here where she befriends Nevart and a young girl, Hatoun. She goes out of her way to ensure these two are safe and taken care of. She begins to view them as family. As a reader, you wonder if this is wise on her part to become so attached.

Armen is a broken man. He is certain that both his wife and young daughter are dead, since the protection he tried to provide him didn't work. He comes to Aleppo to try to find out what happened to them. Meanwhile, he meets Elizabeth and they form a friendship based on educating each other on their backgrounds. As they grow closer, he isn't so sure that he should continue with his plan of leaving Aleppo but he is bent on revenge for the wrongs of his family.

As the story is weaved together you know that there will be tragedy on a personal level for both Elizabeth and Armen. Tragedy that neither of them will speak to any one about. Laura is an excellent narrator for she pulls the story together and adds another level of emotion.

As always Mr. Bohjalian weaves a masterful story in with the facts of the Armenian genocide. The story of the Endicott's and Petrosian's is an important one. For their granddaughter, it was about understanding her grandparents and her history.

I can't recommend this novel enough. It will break your heart and make your stomach wretch for the things that we humans do to each other in the name of religion and power. I haven't read Skeletons at the Feast yet but I'm sure it will be equal to the same emotional level as this novel.

Final Take: 5/5

The Sandcastle Girls will be out tomorrow, July 17th.


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