Hands up who's heard of the Amernian genocide during World War I? I certainly hadn't, so when I learnt that Chris Bohjalian's newest book drew from both his own Armenian background, and the Armenian genocide, it instantly had my attention.
Told in alternating POVs and across two timeframes, The Sandcastle Girls is set in 1915 Syria and 2012 USA, as an author seeks more information on her grandparents, Armenian Armen and Bostonian Elizabeth and the atrocities of the Armenian genocide, something that was hinted at, but never spoken openly about. Unexpectedly, there is also a dip into the horrific failure of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign that really hit home with me as an Australian.
This is a gripping, emotional, intense read that took me on a journey through a part of history that I, ignorantly, know very little about. The writing is languid yet intense, and sympathetically tells a shocking story, whilst encompassing a love story that seems improbable but is completely believable.
The characters are so varied, yet so connected to each other that there was not a single POV that I didn't enjoy as much as the others - from the main characters through to the damaged girl, Hatoum, the German engineers, the outwardly calm yet inwardly broken Nevart - all were vivid, realistic characters.
The Sandcastle Girls is certainly not a book for the light-hearted, and there were times I literally had to step away from it to stop my emotions boiling over - the plight of the Armenians is incredibly heartbreaking and at times gruesome. This is a book that will stick with me for a long, long time, and if you have any interest in this subject at all, I can highly recommend The Sandcastle Girls.
This review is for the unabridged audio version by Random House Audio in 9 CDs , Cassandra Campbell and Alison Fraser are the two readers and they do a great job not only with interpreting the mood of the novel, but also in doing different accents …. it is fortunate they had the common sense to choose different voices, this helps to distinguish between the first person narration of Laura Petrosian And the historical description of the Armenian massacre that started in 1915together with other situations. Laura is the grandaughter of an Armenian engineer who would later become a soldier with the British army and a Bostonian mother Elizabeth … she starts by describing her grandmother arrival in Aleppo in Syria where she starts witnessing the arrival of half dead Armenian refugees…. I do not want to spoil the rest of the book, I only say that the two met and fell in love. If you consider this a spoiler, look away now. Perhaps it is only me but I would have given it five stars if it wasn’t for certain parts of Laura’s narration of her own life, in my opinion she is at times insufferable, for example in Chapter 11 (CD 6) her telling of her brother having his first erection while watching their aunt’s belly dancing is not only inappropriate and irrelevant to the story but is also one of the most vain and unnecessary digression especially in parallel with the tragedy of war. I would have expected discretion, a bit more tact and respect from her part …. Also towards the beginning of the novel when she describes her ‘relationship’ with her first Turkish boyfriend, there are some details that as a reader I can do better without, more precisely I would have enjoyed the story more if it wasn’t for certain details … for me the historical narration of one of the greatest human tragedies is irreconcilable with certain parts of Laura’s narration. Please note that there are swearing words. The audio version also contains an afterword and an interview with the author, again I do not want to spoil the content, I only say that I was left with the feeling that he could have said more … I would say the interview was only partially revealing ….