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The Sandcastle Girls: A Novel

The Sandcastle Girls - Chris Bohjalian Although, at first, the book might appear to be a love story between an Armenian engineer, Armen, and an American woman, Elizabeth Endicott, of French and Armenian heritage, it is much more about the Armenian genocide of 1915. When Laura Petrosian who resides in Westchester, NY, discovers a picture of Elizabeth, her grandmother, in an old newspaper clipping, she begins research to find out more about her past. She knows little about the history of Armenia; her grandparents never spoke of their past, nor did her father enlighten her. The journey takes her to far away lands and the knowledge of a tragedy that moves her to tears.
The atrocities committed by the Turks led to the slaughter, torture and degradation of millions of Armenians. It was the intention of the Turks to wipe out the entire Armenian population. The Armenians were allied with Russia, and ironically, the Turks were allies of Germany in WWI. In WWII, the Germans would take such a policy of annihilation to an even more nightmarish conclusion, when it systematically tried to make Germany a perfect Aryan nation by murdering Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, the mentally unstable, and others who didn’t fit the mold of the perfect Aryan, the perfect German.
As historic fiction, I found the book very interesting. I knew little about the genocide committed against the Armenians and the book was very enlightening on that score. The timeline traveled pretty much from 1915 to five or six decades later. The narrative alternated between Laura’s investigation and discoveries and Elizabeth’s experiences in Aleppo, Syria. Elizabeth’s story was far more interesting than Laura’s remarks, although this may have been due to the voice of Laura on the audio version I listened to, more than anything else. The voice of the characters with accents, other than American, held much more detail, passion and emotion and imparted far more information. Yet, if Laura did not put the story into words, there would be no book at all, so she was a necessary part of the plot.
The characters were very well described, and as a reader I empathized with their plight and suffered with them. I was horrified by much of what I learned about the Armenian genocide. The inhuman treatment that the women and children were subjected to defied my imagination, and the cold-blooded murder of the men was beyond my ability to comprehend, even though I am well aware of the events of the Holocaust. One would hope that this kind of tragic, savage behavior will not be repeated in history ever again. The attempt to willfully murder an entire population is a despicable act, not worthy of civilized human beings.
The author is of Armenian background, and much of the story is drawn from his Armenian history, although the characters and the story are totally fictional. The twists and turns of the story will defy your imagination and keep you engaged.