The Sandcastle Girls
by Chris Bohjalian
3 stars - two star writing, but an extra star for topic
Too bad this one misses the mark because the main topic, the Armenian Genocide, is an important historical event which many people are not aware of.
The story focuses on Elizabeth Endicott, a wealthy young American woman who travels to Aleppo as part of a humanitarian mission to aid victims of the Armenian Genocide. She meets Armen, an Armenian engineer, and falls in love. Armen, who has lost his wife and child, is equally smitten, but feels compelled to leave Aleppo to join the army in the battle against the Turks.
The narrator of the story is Elizabeth's granddaughter, Laura. Laura delves into historical archives to try and discover the details of what happened decades before. She's heard bits and pieces from her grandparents, but never the full story. She discovers a box of her grandmother's letters, along with some photos taken during granny's stay in Aleppo and from that she pieces together what might have actually happened.
The book started off well enough. There are scenes depicting the unimaginable hardship endured by the Armenian people and some reflections on events by Laura. But it deteriorates into a rather mushy love story. In fact that story is so soft and gauzy that by the mid-point, the genocide has faded, lost its immediacy.
Things get more implausible as the book goes on, the impact of the war on people more removed. Then there's the ending. Ugh. A series of unbelievable coincidences that read more like a romance novel than historical fiction.
Mr. Bohjalian has written several novels and is apparently quite successful, so if you've enjoyed any of his other books, I imagine you'll like this one as well, but it wasn't my cup of tea.