Sandcastle Girls

Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian, New York : Doubleday, 2012.

Laura Petrosian is a novelist of Armenian and Bostonian decent, living in suburban New York.  She has fond memories of growing up around her grandparent’s ornate home, never much thinking about her heritage.  But a newspaper photo promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum of her grandmother triggers a new cascading obsession in her family’s history.  Her research uncovers the story of how her Bostonian grandmother, Elizabeth Endicott, and her Armenian grandfather, Armen Petrosian, met and fell in love amongst the horrors of war and tragedy.

Elizabeth Endicott arrived in Aleppo, Syria in 1915, with her father as a volunteer on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to help deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide taking place in the Turkish-Ottoman Empire.  Nothing could prepare her for the true horrors occurring that were being blamed on the ‘casualties of war’ mentality and not seen as the true and deliberate persecution of the Armenian people.  Determined to do what she can, she volunteers regularly at the orphanage and hospital, becoming friendly with a young engineer, Armen.

When Armen leaves Aleppo to join the British Army against the Turkish, the two friends begin a correspondence that fosters growing feelings between the two.  These letters are in the archives of the Bostonian museum when their granddaughter, Laura, begins her discovery into her family heritage. 

Chris Bohjalian is a master at weaving timelines and stories in this amazing novel.  Laura Petrosian’s story is told in the first person narrative, telling stories about her childhood, her family and her eventual obsession into her family history.  Jumping back in time we get insight into Elizabeth and Armen as well as a large amount of supporting characters such as an Armenian widow, Nevart, the orphaned child she’s taken in, Hatoun, German officers witnessing the tragic genocide, dignitaries of both Germany and America, and more.  Interspersed through these fictional character’s stories are the true facts of this actual genocide that took place under the radar of WWI. 

A completely amazing read that will make readers second guess the fact that this is a fictional novel, at least where the characters are concerned.  An added bonus if you’re interested in listening to the audiobook version is an interview with author Chris Bohjalian on the inspiration for this novel and how it all came about.

Susana Goldman is the Library Director of the Alamance County Public Library.  She can be reached at (336) 513-4753 or sgoldman@alamancelibraries.org.