Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

Before we move on to my review, I'd like to write about the wonderful Book Expo America 2012 (as well as previous years) and thank all the people behind the scenes of this one of the biggest publishing event in the world. Because they made it possible for me to attend, I succeeded in meeting with some of America's most talented and most famous writers. One of them was Mr. Chris Bohjalian, with whom I had an incredible opportunity to speak about his novel, The Sandcastle Girls, as well as his Armenian roots and our shared experiences as part of two diasporas (Armenian and Polish).

Chris Bohjalian and me at BEA 2012

Another great surprise was Ms. Ruta Sepetys who wrote Between Shades of Grey, a YA novel and a book that matters, will always matter and should really be read by young, middle aged and old everywhere. And what a nice person Ms. Sepetys turned out to be. Yet another reason for me to be grateful for an opportunity to attend last month's BEA.

If you ever have a chance or an opportunity to sign for one publishing event, please let it be Book Expo America, right in the heart of NYC, Manhattan!


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The book's synopsis from Chris Bohjalian's website:

In his fifteenth book, The Sandcastle Girls, he [Chris Bohjalian] brings us on a very different kind of journey. This spellbinding tale travels between Aleppo, Syria in 1915 and Bronxville, New York in 2012—a sweeping historical love story steeped in the author's Armenian heritage, making it his most personal novel to date.

When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Syria she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke College, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The First World War is spreading across Europe and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian Genocide. There Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. When Armen leaves Aleppo to join the British army in Egypt, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost.

Flash forward to the present, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents' ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed "The Ottoman Annex," Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura's grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family's history that reveals love, loss – and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.
I've struggled with what words to describe The Sandcastle Girls ever since I was done reading it. I'm afraid nothing I write will properly give it its full credit and convey how important this book is. I was blessed to be able to read it and I can only hope that I'll successfully convince every one of you to read it as well.

First, I have to say how deeply ashamed I feel that I'd known absolutely nothing about the Armenian genocide of 1915-16. Especially being Polish and growing up in Poland, having gotten my entire education there, in that country which still struggles with the history of Soviet oppression and mass extermination of the Polish committed by the Soviet government, it's shameful that the Armenian genocide was erased from the pages of history books. It's utterly unforgivable that most likely all over the world people remain ignorant of this great tragedy, tragedy that happened in 1915 and tragedy that keeps happening every day these people, slaughtered in the middle of nowhere, are not remembered and are not given as much dignity due, dignity that they were denied then.

Chris Bohjalian wrote this story using his beautiful gift to the fullest. There is absolutely nothing in The Sandcastle Girls to make the merest complaint about. The story of Armen and Elizabeth, they're falling in love with each other in the midst of horrible tragedy may not be based on fact, but is believable and absolutely probable. Love blossoms in the most horrific of circumstances and is that one more offspring of hope humans always cling to, to survive. Incredible strength of character and perseverance of the Armenian people needed hope above all. I want to tell you in as much detail as possible why this novel is so beautiful and stunning, but my emotions while reading The Sandcastle Girls and still days after having finished it, are such that talking about literary merits trivializes the story. Although, maybe the fact that one can get so very much involved in this book is a testament to its literary merits enough.

I'm obviously no literary critic, just a simple reader. But most of us are that. And most of us don't know that one and a half million Armenians perished at the hands of the Turks. We have had close to a hundred years to learn about it but we didn't and Chris Bohjalian gives us an opportunity to finally start honoring the memory of the mothers who had to watch their children die of starvation, children who had to watch their mothers being raped and then murdered, of the husbands and fathers being taken away from their families, not ever having known what had happened to them or having died with broken souls.

Here's what I wanted to mostly convey: The Sandcastle Girls is the reason why you learned how to read. Oh, you may read silly, light novels for entertainment value, because you want to relax and rest. And that's fine. I read those too. But if you don't read books like The Sandcastle Girls as well, books that should matter, then what meaning is there to your reading at all?


FTC: I received an e-galley of Tha Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian from the publisher, Doubleday via NetGalley for review.

The Sandcastle Girls will be on sale July 17th, 2012

Pre-order it:

Random House
Barnes & Noble