I still remember in fifth grade when my teacher brought in pamphlets for us to read about the Armenian Genocide. It was the one time, until the last couple of years, that I remember hearing anything about it. Part of that is because countries involved have done a pretty good job at denying and covering up what happened in the late 1800s, and 1914-1916. I can still remember bits and pieces of what I read in that pamphlet and being appalled at how the people were treated. It both scared and saddened me.
The Sandcastle Girls: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian is an incredible account of the plight of the Armenians in the Ottoman empire. The story is at once both compelling and heartbreaking. Quilted together from different times and places, the tale is told from the granddaughter of a survivor of that time when an entire race was nearly eliminated from the earth.
Elizabeth Endicott and her father embark from Boston to Aleppo, Syria, to help the American consul and the Turkish doctors there provide aid and relief to the thousands of Armenian women and children that have been marched from various places in Turkey to this dessert city. Upon arrival, the Endicotts are in part shocked at what they find. Shadows of former humans arrive in the town square barely alive, and are left there until places open in the orphanage or they are marched even further into the dessert to a refugee camp. The help that the Americans are able to offer is limited in light of the need, but nonetheless, it is better than nothing. Elizabeth is changed here. By the people she meets, the relationships she builds, the concepts she learns. These changes are going to impact her family for generations to come, and indeed it is her granddaughter who years after Elizabeth’s own death unearths and brings to life some of the pieces of her grandmother’s adventures, both exciting and heartbreaking, in Aleppo.
The captivating thing about The Sandcastle Girls is the depth of the characters and how well you get to know them, their character, their dreams and desires. Told from the point of view of a writer who is researching her own ancestral story, pieces of information come out slowly and shockingly.
Bohjalian finds a way to wrap the hard cold facts of the genocide in a story that brings the victims to life, makes them real, makes what happened to them a tragedy, rather than a bullet point in some countries conservative versions of textbooks.
I highly, highly recommend this book, especially if you don’t know anything about the atrocities that were committed against the Armenian population. Please keep in mind, this was in the past. This was a reality of history, but it does not reflect Turkish people today, just as we cannot pin the entire holocaust on contemporary Germans, nor the entire American slave-trade on our own generation.
For your information, there are some very graphic scenes in the book, including scenes of a sexual nature, as well as some objectionable language. These scenes are not the focus of the book, and they are an attempt to portray the real horrors that were committed against women and children in the desserts of the Middle East. I would not recommend this book for children or teenagers.
Don’t forget, there is still a giveaway going on until Friday!!