Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

I brought three books with me on vacation and I finished one quickly (Strange but True by J. Searles), I started another that didn't grab me right off but when I arrived at my in-laws amidst one of our many early book discussions they highly recommended  Chris Bohjalian's book.  It also happened to be the book my mother-in-law's book club would be discussing and also "Would I like to come to book club with her?" Yes! Yes, of course I would.

Always ready for book discussion and the challenge of reading a 293 page book in just a few days I was thrilled to be asked.  I was easily pulled into this engaging and informative book about the Armenian genocide.  What Armenian genocide you ask?  Just what I said and every book club member we gathered with on Tuesday night!  What?  Parts of world history we know nothing about...not that hard to believe, sadly even though we were a learned community of women.  Thankfully Chris Bohjalian chose to write his 15th novel about his Armenian roots so that we could learn more and carry that forth into the world.

It begins:

"The young woman, twenty-one, walks gingerly down the dusty street between her father and the American consul here in Aleppo, an energetic fellow almost her father's age named Ryan Donald Martin, and draws the scarf over her hair and her cheeks.  The men are detouring around the square near the base of the citadel because they don't yet want her to see the deportees who arrived here last night-there will be time for that soon enough-but she fears she is going to be sick anyway.  The smell of rotting flesh, excrement, and the July heat are conspiring to churn her stomach far worse than eve the trip across the Atlantic had weeks earlier.  She feels clammy and weak-kneed and reaches out for her father's elbow to steady herself.  Her father, in turn, gently taps her fingers with his hand, his vague and abstracted attempt at a comforting gesture."  (1)

Written in 2012 Bohjalian writes this historical fiction from a female perspective in both 1915, Syria, and present day,  Bronxville, NY   Elizabeth Endicott, a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, arrives with her father to bring aid to the displaced Armenian population and Laura Petrosian, a writer who tells the story backwards as she remembers her childhood from her grandparents "Ottoman Annex" home.  Laura discovers mysteries about her own family history as she searches for answers about her grandparents.

I loved how these two stories intersected and became one.  I loved how slowly many secrets were revealed. At first it was jarring to get yanked to the present, to the beginning of Laura's story, as I was so fully engaged in Elizabeth's daily struggles adjusting to her surroundings.  I got used to Laura's interjections as the story continues.  The book does share many repulsive stories of what women suffered at the hands of the Turkish soldiers.  It's gruesome and sadly still commonplace that women bear ungodly amounts of horror at the hands of men in power, or men hoping for power, or men lacking in power.    Highly recommended.  Find Chris Bohjalian on twitter @ChrisBohjalian.

After this tale it's hard to pick my next read.  College Boy just finished and recommended Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and I have Forever by Pete Hamill still to finish.

Attending my mother-in-law's book group was inspiring as they've been together for 20 years and share a common love of children and teaching.  The appetizers were delicious and the company was excellent.  I'm so glad I was here and had read enough of the story to participate in the lively discussion.


Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I've got this one on my WishList but after reading However Long the Night about Molly Melching and Tostan's mission for women in Senegal, this one sounds like a great next read.

Zaira Lynn said...

I can say without hesitation that this book will be on my favorites list forever. The story is sad and beautiful at the same time. Thank you to Mr. Bohjalian, for writing this story. It certainly felt like this was a book written from the heart.

Zaira Lynn (CashFund)