Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

Elizabeth travels with her father from Boston to Aleppo, Syria to help the Armenians who are being forcibly removed from their homeland in Turkey during World War I, by bringing aid and medical supplies.  She has attended college, taken a basic nursing course and has a narrow grasp of the language.  Elizabeth quickly loses her naivete when a group of starved, naked women and children refugees are herded into the public square like animals.  Where are the men, She asks?  They have been slaughtered or became soldiers for the opposition.

In Aleppo, Elizabeth meets people who will change the outcome of her life.  She meets Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter.  He leaves Syria to join the British front, in the hope of destroying the Turks, and they fall in love as they send letters to each other.

Fast forward two generations and the story incorporates, Laura, Elizabeth and Armen's granddaughter as she learns the truth about her grandparents and the effects of the Armenian genocide that continue to haunt her.  Laura becomes the writer of her grandparents story.

The Sandcastle Girls is historical fiction that places "The Slaughter you know next to nothing about", (pg. 13) the Armenian genocide, as the terrifying back-drop. "The centennial of the Armenian genocide is nearing.  April 24, 2015, marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the round-up of the Armenian intellectuals, professionals, editors, and religious leaders in Constantinople, most of whom eventually were executed.  Is was, arguably, the start of the most nightmarish eight years in Armenian history-though the very worst would occur in the subsequent eighteen months, culminating with the 1916 massacres at Ras-el-Ain and Der-el-zor."(pg. 261)

The Germans were allies with Turkey during World War I.  The parallels of the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide are significant.  It strikes me that the Germans learned a lot of their horrific practices from the Turks and perpetuated them on the Jews, like the Turks did on the Christians.

Bohjalian has written a book that is difficult to read at times as he doesn't hold back the horror of genocide during World War I.  His book is a necessary introduction to "The Slaughter you know next to nothing about."  His characters are human, flawed, and believable.  The book is timely as the hundred year anniversary approaches but also because of the political unrest and problems gripping the people of Syria right now.  As massacres happen today in Syria by the government, in exactly the same place of one hundred years ago, it brings about an eerie sad feeling for the people in this desert nation steeped in a history of tragedy.

The Sandcastle Girls is a difficult, important book that must be read.  Why must we read books that challenge us?  Books that challenge us, widen our perceptions, make us aware of injustices that still exist in the world, demand that we teach or tell someone what we learned and perpetuate the change we hope to see in the world.  If we deny ourselves the experience of reading books that are difficult we lose a sense of what is real.  So don't shy away from The Sandcastle Girls, it may be the one book that rocks your world and this is one history lesson you want to stay awake for.