US Armenian writer, Chris Bohjalian, depicts tragedy of Genocide in new novel
Renowned US Armenian novelist Chris Bohjalian’s has written his 14th novel, The Sandcastle Girls, providing a moving depiction of the of the Armenian Genocide.
According to the Armenian Weekly, the tragedy is told through the experiences of a group of very different individuals who find themselves in Ottoman Aleppo in 1915.
At the heart of the novel is a love story between Armen Petrosian, a survivor of Turkish brutality, and Elizabeth Endicott, a Boston Brahmin who has traveled to Aleppo to perform relief work with her father. While the love story propels the novel forward, it is Bohjalian’s unflinching description of what happened to the Armenians during the genocide that makes this book so affecting.
Chris Bohjalian’s novel of the Armenian Genocide, The Sandcastle Girls, arrives on July 17.
The novel moves between the present day—through the musings of a novelist, Laura Petrosian, who is in the process of exploring her family’s history—and 1915, telling the story of Laura’s grandparents. Bohjalian starts with Laura’s memories of spending time in her grandparents’ suburban New York home, which her mother affectionately referred to as the “Ottoman Annex.” Throughout the book, the portions of the novel that are set in the present day are a vehicle for Laura’s internal thoughts and feelings about her Armenian identity, and how that identity is connected to the genocide.
The portion of the novel set in 1915 is told from many perspectives—Elizabeth, Armen, the German engineers, a Turkish soldier. In addition the story is told through the eyes of two Armenian females Elizabeth meets and befriends in the Aleppo square, a widow, Nevart in his early thirties, and an orphan girl, Hatoon. Nevart and Hatoon become surrogate family to each other, and Elizabeth becomes so close with them that she insists they live with her at the American Embassy despite the protestations of her father and other missionaries. What Bohjalian achieves by presenting the story through these multiple voices is a complete portrait of the genocide that is rich in personal detail. The most meaningful and devastating portions of the story are those that are told from the perspective of the young orphan girl Hatoon, who witnessed her whole family brutalized and murdered by Turkish soldiers. Hatoon is deeply damaged by her experiences and her tale is heartbreaking, but her survival and ability to form connections with other survivors and non-Armenians injects some hope into the story.
This book is about many things—a love story, a war, a woman’s independence and coming of age. But more than anything this novel is about the genocide.