The Sandcastle Girls is a dual tale of romance, betrayal and genocide in 1915, paired with the story of a modern woman uncovering her grandparents' past. It's told partly from the viewpoint of an American/Armenian couple and partly by their granddaughter, who serves as the fictional narrator describing her own story about her childhood and research to uncover her grandparents' experience in Aleppo, Syria in 1915.
I knew absolutely nothing about the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and that genocide is so deeply described that it's almost a character in and of itself. The truth about the genocide is not widely known (although I hope The Sandcastle Girls will help change that) and at least one country doesn't even acknowledge that it occurred; this I learned from the book and the extra materials I read near the beginning, when I was confused about who was killing whom, where and why. A little online research helped me to get into the story. The main characters are an American woman who has gone to Aleppo with some minor training in nursing and an Armenian engineer who managed to escape slaughter but lost his wife and daughter. What did they experience and why did they remain tight-lipped about those years?
Because their granddaughter is the narrator but the story switches from her viewpoint in 1st person to a 3rd person omniscient account, it is actually a little jumpy and can be confusing. The jumps in viewpoint and time period, although not the smoothest, didn't completely ruin the story for me, though. The addition of the granddaughter's emotions definitely added some impact. When she cried, I cried.
Recommended with a graphic violence and disturbing-situations warning. An emotional read, at once gripping, horrifying and romantic with three-dimensional characters, believable dialogue, and a unique setting. Be advised that even with the underlying romantic theme, The Sandcastle Girls is a tale of graphic violence and intensity. The images will stick with you.
I got my copy of The Sandcastle Girls from Goodreads for review (my first "win" from Goodreads!), so I promptly posted my review and then altered it a bit for the blog. After writing my own review, I read a few reviews at Goodreads because I was curious what others thought.
There was a 2-star review that I thought was particularly interesting and well-written. Even though I rated it 4/5, I agree with the reviewer that the alternating viewpoints were jarring. She also brought up the lack of maps. Since I looked up maps and information early in my reading of the book, I'd actually completely forgotten about how desperately I needed them. I had no understanding of the Ottoman Empire and where the events occurred. Going into the book, I really was completely confused. Maps and a bit more background info up front would definitely have helped. I set the book aside until I could make sense of the setting. But, it's not unusual for me to stop reading to look up additional information to round out the reading of a novel in a new-to-me historical setting.
Fiona Friday pic - Fiona thanks us for providing an additional place to scratch; Isabel finds the dolly simply smells interesting.
They are still totally into everything, here. The packing has slowed due to illness and I think the cats appreciate it. They don't like a lot of frantic activity. They like a little playtime, a little nap time, a little food. Anything else is just annoying.
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I've heard only good things from this book! I can't wait to read it! Cute pic!ReplyDelete
I thought it was very good, Ruth. Hope you like it when you get around to reading.Delete
Well, the cover is beautiful. I might have to try this one.ReplyDelete
It does have a stunning cover, doesn't it? I hope you'll give it a try. It's a slow read but I like Bohjalian's writing. I've read his nonfiction book of columns about Vermont but this was my first novel by him.Delete
I have a review copy of this waiting to be read, so I'll bear in the mind that maybe I should look up some maps on the internet as I go.ReplyDelete
Yes, definitely do that! You might even want to just read a little about the genocide and where exactly it took place before starting. The book mostly takes place in Aleppo, Syria. I knew were that was because of The Aleppo Codex but Armenia? I was clueless.Delete
I know a little about the Armenian genocide since I read The Gendarme. I'm very curious about this book because I love Bohjalian's writing.ReplyDelete
The Gendarme is one of the books he mentions in the author's notes. I missed that one. This is my first novel by Bohjalian but I loved his nonfiction collection of columns about life in Vermont.Delete
I have a few friends who swear by Bohjalian, and yet I have never read one of his books. I do have Midwives and his last book on my shelf, so I ought to give them a try sometime. What I find fascinating about him is that he writes so many different genres, and each book is so different than the last. Great review today!ReplyDelete
I've only read one other Bohjalian book, Heather. It was so very, very different - a collection of his Idyll Banter columns about life in Vermont. I've also got Midwives on my shelf. I agree; his books do seem to be very diverse!Delete
Yeah. I really need to read The Sandcastle Girls. I've heard so many good things. I live in an area with a large Armenian population and know the basics about the genocide but there's always more to learn.ReplyDelete
I feel like I learned quite a bit from The Sandcastle Girls, Marie. That could be because I knew absolutely nothing, though! :) At any rate, I think it's a good book and worth your time.Delete
Enjoyed your review. I've read one of his books before but this one sounds very different than that. Aleppo is sadly back in the news these days with more violence. I dont know about the 1915 genocide and should read up. cheers. http://www.thecuecard.com/ReplyDelete
Thank you! I think Bohjalian's books are pretty diverse. The only other book I've read by him was his nonfiction collection of columns about Vermont. It was understandably light by comparison. I've been reading about Aleppo in the news. Having also just read about Syria in The Aleppo Codex, it is beginning to feel like a familiar place.Delete
I am not familiar with that part of history either. I would definitely need good maps for a frame of reference though. Geography is not my strong point.ReplyDelete
The problem with geography is that it isn't static. Borders and country names change all the time. I used to have a good atlas that might have helped . . . but might not have, since it would have been about the countries as they were in the 1990s. At any rate, maps are always helpful when geography figures heavily into a storyline. I don't know why it didn't jump out at me that they *should* have put maps in the book, but I managed to look things up on my own enough to understand where things took place.Delete
I learned a little about the Armenian genocide by reading The Gendarme, which I thought was pretty good but not great. I'm definitely going to have to read this one at some point.ReplyDelete
I'm kind of relieved to have confirmation that the Gendarme is just okay from someone I know, Anna! I read about it after reading the titles of books Bohjalian referenced and it didn't sound so hot to me. Thanks for mentioning that. :) I hope you like The Sandcastle Girls when you get to it!Delete