Elizabeth and Armen are complex characters whose lives make this little known time seem real and who make the reader realize that what happened in Armenia in 1915 is essential to our understanding of Turkey and the Middle East today. Mr. Bohjalian, himself an American novelist of Armenian descent, infuses this novel with a realism and heartfelt resonance informed and impassioned by his own connection and the stories he’s undoubtedly heard since childhood.
When Laura ponders, “my brother thinks trying to chronicle our grandparents’ story is a spectacular waste of literary capital and can only inflame tensions between Turks and Armenians. . . Everyone would be better off . . . if I just wrote another domestic comedy” the reader wonders if Bohjalian had such questioners. And he deftly answers the query with, “But history does matter. There is a line between the Armenians and the Jews and the Cambodians and the Serbs and the Rwandans. There are obviously more, but really, how much genocide can one sentence handle? You get the point”. And we do get the point because Bohjalian makes us care deeply about Armen and Elizabeth and a girl named Hatoun.
The novel helps us understand how the term “Young Turks” came into our vernacular as it was three young Turks led by Talet Pasha who initiated and staged the genocide and who were found guilty by a Turkish court of “the massacre and destruction of the Armenians.” That history is informative but Bohjalian takes it a step further by having Laura’s research find that “If you visit Ankara or Istanbul today, you will find streets and schools named for Talat Pasha” (and the other young Turks). “the nation that found Talat Pasha guilty of attempting to wipe out a race of people later named concourses after him. How is that possible? Because, to much of the nation – though, thankfully, not all – that genocide in the desert never happened. Even now, labeling the slaughter of 1915 “genocide” can land a Turkish citizen in jail and get a Turkish Armenian journalist killed.”
I believe and hope that Bohjalian’s naming of the courageous and kind Turkish private Orhan in the book was homage to Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish author, who was arrested for stating the facts of the genocide.
Summing it Up: This epic, historical love story begs for discussion. Upon finishing it, readers will want to find others to talk with about Laura and Armen’s love, about Nevart, Hatoun, Dr. Akham and the other minor characters whose lives make this novel cinematic in scope and about what we should do to make sure this atrocity is never forgotten. It also contains unexpected twists that book clubs will love to debate.
Footnote: I spoke with Mr. Bohjalian today when he appeared at a luncheon in Harbor Springs and he confirmed that the kind Turkish pirate Orhan is in fact named in tribute to author Orhan Pamuk. If you have a chance visit the author website for upcoming appearances throughout the U. S. Bohjalian's presentation is fascinating and includes many photographs of sites in Lebanon and Turkey that he visited in the last year.
Rating: 5 stars
Category: Grandma’s Pot Roast, Historical Fiction, Super Nutrition, Book Club
Publication date: July 17, 2012
Author website: http://www.chrisbohjalian.com/the_sandcastle_girls
Reading Group Guide: http://www.readinggroupguides.com/guides_s/the_sandcastle_girls1.asp
The Story Behind the Story: http://www.armenianweekly.com/2012/05/02/the-kernel-that-led-to-the-sandcastle-girls/
What Others are Saying:
A Compilation: : http://news.am/eng/news/113235.html
Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/chris-bohjalian/sandcastle-girls/#review (Beware, this review contains spoilers even at the beginning.)
Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-385-53479-6