Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

Here is a summary of the book from the publisher's website:

This spellbinding tale travels between Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 and Bronxville, New York, in 2012—a sweeping historical love story steeped in the author’s Armenian heritage, making it his most personal novel to date.

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 Review:
This book roped me in from the opening scene and kept me coming back for more every time I had to put it down.  It brought to life for me a period of history that I didn't even know existed.  If you want to learn more about the genocide committed against the Armenians in 1915 Syria, I highly suggest you read this novel.

Even though a love story unfolds throughout this novel, I want to stress that is not what this book is about.  It starts with a young woman named Laura in present day New York, who begins a journey to learn more about her ancestry, and is confronted with truths and secrets that she learns her grandparents did not even share with one another when they were alive.

In 1915 Aleppo, Syria, young Elizabeth Endicott finds a place in the midst of the genocide, with her father at her side.  The two of them are there with other missionaries, offering their assistance where ever needed.  She cannot believe the horrors the refugees have seen, and she can't help but take a couple of them under wing.  Elizabeth doesn't expect to be swept off her feet by the young Armenian man named Armen, who lost is entire family to the genocide. 

As events unfold from the genocide, Armen and Elizabeth become separated, but their relationship kept its spark through the letters they wrote, although they don't ever expect the other to read them.  We watch Elizabeth's transformation from a selfish girl into a gracious young lady.  She makes a decision that forces her to bury a secret deep in her heart for the rest of her life.

This was an amazing story that I absolutely loved.  The author did a great job transitioning between current day and the past, which doesn't always work for me.  I recall my grandmother telling me that her father was from Armenia, so personally, maybe that is why I enjoyed this book so much.  But honestly, with themes of war, love, and secrets this was an excellent book that would also make a great book club selection.  I highly recommend this novel.

My Rating:  5/5

Disclosure:  This book was provided to me through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.


Harvee @ Book Dilettante said...

I like your rating! This has been on my TBR shelves for a while, and I plan to get to it soon!

Harvee @ Book Dilettante said...

I like your rating! This has been on my TBR shelves for a while, and I plan to get to it soon!

bermudaonion said...

I love Bohjalian's writing so I'm not surprised you enjoyed this so much. I can't wait to read it.

Anna said...

I'm definitely going to have to read this!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I enjoyed this one as well, and very anxious for his 2013 book as well.