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The Sandcastle Girls

Cover of The Sandcastle Girls

The Sandcastle Girls

A Novel
Over the course of his career, New York Times bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian has taken readers on a spectacular array of journeys. Midwives brought us to an isolated Vermont farmhouse on an icy winter’s night and a home birth gone tragically wrong. The Double Bind perfectly conjured the Roaring Twenties on Long Island—and a young social worker’s descent into madness. And Skeletons at the Feast chronicled the last six months of World War Two in Poland and Germany with nail-biting authenticity. As The Washington Post Book World has noted, Bohjalian writes “the sorts of books people stay awake all night to finish.”
In his fifteenth book, The Sandcastle Girls, he brings us on a very different kind of journey. This spellbinding tale travels between Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 and Bronxville, New York, in 2012—a sweeping historical love story steeped in the author’s Armenian heritage, making it his most personal novel to date.
When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Syria, she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke College, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The First World War is spreading across Europe, and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to 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 to join the British Army in Egypt, 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.Flash forward to the present, 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.
Over the course of his career, New York Times bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian has taken readers on a spectacular array of journeys. Midwives brought us to an isolated Vermont farmhouse on an icy winter’s night and a home birth gone tragically wrong. The Double Bind perfectly conjured the Roaring Twenties on Long Island—and a young social worker’s descent into madness. And Skeletons at the Feast chronicled the last six months of World War Two in Poland and Germany with nail-biting authenticity. As The Washington Post Book World has noted, Bohjalian writes “the sorts of books people stay awake all night to finish.”
In his fifteenth book, The Sandcastle Girls, he brings us on a very different kind of journey. This spellbinding tale travels between Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 and Bronxville, New York, in 2012—a sweeping historical love story steeped in the author’s Armenian heritage, making it his most personal novel to date.
When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Syria, she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke College, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The First World War is spreading across Europe, and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to 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 to join the British Army in Egypt, 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.Flash forward to the present, 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.
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  • From the book

    Chapter 1

    The young woman, twenty-one, walks gingerly down the dusty street between her father and the American consul here in Aleppo, an energetic fellow almost her father's age named Ryan Donald Martin, and draws the scarf over her hair and her cheeks. The men are detouring around the square near the base of the citadel because they don't yet want her to see the deportees who arrived here last night--there will be time for that soon enough--but she fears she is going to be sick anyway. The smell of rotting flesh, excrement, and the July heat are conspiring to churn her stomach far worse than even the trip across the Atlantic had weeks earlier. She feels clammy and weak-kneed and reaches out for her father's elbow to steady herself. Her father, in turn, gently taps her fingers with his hand, his vague and abstracted attempt at a comforting gesture.

    "Miss Endicott, do you need to rest? You look a little peaked," the consul says, and she glances at him. His brown eyes are wide and a little crazed, and already there are thin rivulets of sweat running down both sides of his face. He is wearing a beige linen jacket, which she imagines to be infinitely more comfortable than her father's gray woolen suit. She brings her free hand to her own face and feels the moisture there. She nods in response to his question; she does need to sit, though it embarrasses her to admit this. Still, it may be a nonissue. She can't see where she might on this squalid street. But Ryan quickly takes her arm and guides her from her father, leading her to a stoop on the shady side of the thin road. He wipes off the squat step with his bare hand. There is a ramshackle wooden door behind the stoop, shut tight against the midmorning heat, but she presumes that whoever lives there won't mind if she sits. And so there she rests and breathes in deeply and slowly through her mouth, watching the women in their headscarves and long, loose robes--some hide all but their eyes behind burqas--and the men in their ornate blazers, their voluminous, shapeless trousers, and their flowerpot-like fez hats. Some of the men glance at her sympathetically as they pass, others with a brazen want in their eyes. She has been warned.

    "There's a nice breeze today," Ryan says cheerfully, and while she appreciates the slightly cooler air, wafting along with it is the stench from the square. "Before you arrived, the heat was just unbearable."

    She can't imagine it being hotter. At the moment, she can't imagine anywhere being hotter. And yet she found their apartment last night unexpectedly comfortable after the endless weeks aboard a ship, then a horse-drawn carriage, and finally two train cars that boasted only wooden seats. It was warm, but she had stood at her window for nearly half an hour in the middle of the night, gazing out at the row of statuesque cypress on the hill beyond the American compound and the bower of trees just inside the walls. She saw more stars than she ever saw in Boston, and the half moon seemed to dangle eerily, beautifully close to the earth.

    Her father is surveying the rows of sand-colored two-story buildings that curl toward an alley, his arms folded across his chest, his face stern, and then she notes him arch his back suddenly and stand up a little straighter. Ryan sees what he sees and murmurs just loud enough for her to hear, "Oh, Jesus, no. Not more." Both Ryan and her father glance down at her, but they realize there is absolutely nothing they can do; there is not a way in the world to shield her from what is coming. Besides, this is why she is here, isn't it? Didn't she volunteer to be a part of this aid mission? To chronicle what she sees for their organization,...

About the Author-
  • Chris Bohjalian is the critically acclaimed author of fifteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Double Bind, The Night Strangers, and Skeletons at the Feast. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah's Book Club. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

Reviews-
  • Book Browse

    "Masterful . . . a near-perfect work of historical fiction. . . . The contemporary and historical sections each have a different flavor, but both are well written and engaging with interesting, three-dimensional characters. . . . Enlightening."

  • Diane Scharper, The Weekly Standard "Compelling . . . Deftly mixing fact and fiction . . . Bohjalian weaves the story like threads in a rug, each thread adding color and shadow to a scene. . . . [S]o filled is it with the suspense of life and death that The Sandcastle Girls is difficult to categorize. The story is fiction, but is true. It's history, but it's also art."
  • Kim Curtis, The Associated Press "It takes a talented novelist to combine fully ripened characters, an engrossing storyline, exquisite prose and set it against a horrific historical backdrop--in this case, the Armenian Genocide--and completely enchant readers. The prolific and captivating Chris Bohjalian has done it all--again--with The Sandcastle Girls. . . . Seamless . . . A fascinating journey through time and history."
  • Margot Harrison, Seven Days "Sober, elegiac, and respectful. . . . A fiction like Bohjalian's [has the] power to reach legions of readers."
  • Nicholas Addison Thomas, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star "A sweeping love story . . . Toggling between two eras, Bohjalian paints a vivid portrayal of love and pain and the strength to survive each. At once heartbreaking and hopeful, The Sandcastle Girls is a mesmerizing work of historical fiction influenced by the author's heritage and driven by a romance so beautiful and believable it hurts."
  • Curt Schleier, Minneapolis Star-Tribune "Bohjalian is a literary novelist unafraid to reference Proust's madeleine and expect readers to get it. But his books are also filled with artfully drawn characters and great, passionate storytelling. The Sandcastle Girls is all that, but different, more powerful. . . . Handled with such skill that it seems perfect."
  • Nathalie Gorman, Oprah.com "A searing, tautly woven tale of war and the legacy it leaves behind. . . . A nuanced, sophisticated portrayal of what it means not only to endure, but to insist on hope."
  • Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch "Remarkably supple . . . Moment by moment, and passage by passage, the novel lights up a disturbing period of history."
  • Brandy Hilboldt Allport, The Florida Times-Union "Telescopic . . . Because of Bohjalian's writing style, which never rings a false note as it moves from present-day New York to the tragedy of World War I, his characters are as real as our own relatives. The well-researched history that forms the background informs, intrigues and enchants--even as recollections of horror mount . . . [A] story of love, world history and the human condition."
  • Amy Driscoll, The Miami Herald "A compelling new novel that is part love story, part history lesson . . . An eye-opening tale of longing and discovery [and] bittersweet reflection on hope even in the darkest circumstances. . . . Bohjalian's book is about the ways the past informs the present, about the pain but also the richness of heritage. . . . Remarkable."
  • Eugenia Zukerman, The Washington Post "Bohjalian deftly weaves the many threads of this story back and forth from past to present, from abuse to humanity, from devastation to redemption. His ability to add irony and wit makes the contrasting horrors even more intense. . . . Staggering [and] utterly riveting . . . [A] valuable and powerful piece of evidence pointing to the undeniable."
  • Carol Memmott, USA Today "Stirring . . . The Sandcastle Girls wraps the threads of a significant historic event around a deeply moving story of survival and enduring love."
  • Julie Wittes Schlack, The Boston Globe "Cool and lucid . . . With Armen and Elizabeth, Bohjalian has fulfilled the duty of anyone seeking to document a genocide--he ensures that we don't look away."
  • Curt Schleier, The Seattle Times "Dead-solid perfect. Bohjalian is a literary novelist unafraid to reference Proust's madeleine and expect readers to get it. But his books are also filled with artfully drawn characters and great, passionate storytelling. The Sandcastle Girls is all that, but different, more powerful."
  • Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly "Bohjalian--the grandson of Armenian survivors--pours passion, pride, and sadness into his tale of ethnic destruction and endurance."
  • People "[A] great read . . . An affecting tale set at the time of a lesser-known holocaust, 1915's Armenian genocide
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The Sandcastle Girls
The Sandcastle Girls
A Novel
Chris Bohjalian
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