Chris Bohjalian is one of those authors where I will read anything he writes. Somehow, though, I’d missed The Sandcastle Girls when it first came out, so when I saw a copy at a used book sale, I snagged it. (I’ve reviewed Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands on this blog previously.)
In the acknowledgements of this book, Bohjalian recognizes his own Armenian grandparents as part of the inspiration for the novel and he also cites a huge number of resources he used when researching the book. I love historical fiction for so many reasons: it breathes life into history, it makes me reconsider what I thought I knew about the world, and it reminds me how important knowing the backstory of a character and a person can be when making decisions. This book helped me understand more about the Armenian genocide of 1915, or, as Laura the narrator calls it: “The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About.”
This novel pulls you in to the story of Elizabeth Endicott via her granddaughter Laura’s voice. She tells us her grandmother’s story — how she went to Aleppo with her father to help and how she fell in love with Armen, an Armenian engineer. Some of the reading is downright grisly and graphic, and Bohjalian does not avoid showing just how horrific the genocide was for men, women, and children. However, I think he balances the violence with other scenes so it is not overwhelming for the reader.
There were a number of passages I especially connected with:
- “But history does matter. There is a line connecting the Armenians and the Jews and the Cambodians and the Bosnians and the Rwandans. There are obviously more, but really, how much genocide can one sentence handle?”
- “calendars were as cruelly detached as the cosmos. Time, I thought, gives us hope; it shouldn’t. Time is indifferent.”
- “the short answer to that first question–How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing?–is really very simple. You kill them in the middle of nowhere.”