Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Sandcastle Girls


From Amazon:
The Sandcastle Girls is a sweeping historical love story steeped in Chris Bohjalian's Armenian heritage.
When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Aleppo, Syria she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The year is 1915 and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to help 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 and travels south into Egypt to join the British army, 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.

Fast forward to the present day, 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.
Author's Note: The centennial of the Armenian genocide is nearing. April 24, 2015, marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the roundup of the Armenian intellectuals, professionals, editors, and religious leaders in Constantinople, most of whom eventually were executed. It 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.

Our history books in school were so incomplete. Totally mediated and scrubbed clean. Focused on superiority and patriotism. I think the first I heard any mention of these horrific events was just a couple of years ago. But, I've heard a similar story from my Estonian friend. Her father was a seminarian and intellectual who escaped to Germany in the late 1930s and survived, while his colleagues stayed in Tallinn. RvH's father was called on to identify the bodies. Within a few years the family immigrated first to Britain and finally to the Chicago area. There's definitely an Estonian story to tell. And, how many others?