Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Sandcastle Girls

“How do 1.5 million people die and no one hears about it?”  This is the question that puzzles Laura Petrosian, the modern day character in Chris Bohjalian’s book The Sandcastle Girls.  Inspired by his grandparent’s background, Bohjalian tackles the Armenian genocide that occurred as the Ottoman Empire crumbles at the start of World War I. 

This fascinating tale travels between Bronxville, New York in 2012 to Aleppo, Syria in 1915.  In this novel, a fictional American woman missionary, Elizabeth, comes to the aid of the people and falls in love with an Armenian man, Armen, whose family was part of the death marches out of Turkey into Syria.   Years later, her American granddaughter, Laura Petrosian, researches her family history and crafts a moving story which is a tribute to all those who have died. 

Elizabeth comes to Aleppo and joins in with her father in serving the people that are arriving there.  She stays pretty much confined to the American compound but does venture out to help in the hospital and in the orphanage.  The Armenians that arrive are just about dead on their feet.  The people are malnourished and in need of clothing.  In the city the orphanage for children is overrun by the stronger who prey on the weaker.  Officials say that they are going to help.  Robberies are commonplace.  No one can be trusted. 

In this situation, Elizabeth comes of age.  She falls in love with Armen, an Armenian engineer.  She puts herself into primitive conditions in the hospital and orphanage.  Her maternal instincts come out as she has one Armenian woman and one Armenian child stay with her in the American compound. 

Bohjalian brings forth a world that may seem daunting.  There is violence and struggles but the authors brings forth hope and goodness and the idea that love prevails in the telling of this amazing story.  Even when tragedy strikes there is always that hope that love will come again.  That is the beauty of the story.  Bohjalian tells this rich story with a sensitivity that respects the Armenian experieince.  Thus, I highly recommend  this novel, not necessary as a summer beach read but as a great read to better understand this topic.

A.B.--Technical Services

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