“How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing? You kill them in the middle of nowhere.”

sandcastle girlsThe Brown Baggers met Thursday, September 20 to discuss Chris Bohjalian’s historical fiction novel The Sandcastle Girls.

Bohjalian’s 15th and most personal novel is a sweeping story of love, loss, courage, and the immigrant experience set against the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923. Bohjalian weaves together two generations of the Petrosian family; there is Elizabeth Endicott, an American aid worker volunteering in Syria in 1915, who witnesses the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide, and her granddaughter, Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in present day suburban New York who uncovers the unspeakable tragedies her grandparents faced during World War I. 

In 1915 Elizabeth meets and falls in love with Armen, an Armenian engineer who has lost his wife and infant daughter at the hands of Turkish soldiers. Unable to stand by and watch his fellow countrymen die, Armen risks his own life to cross the desert and join the Allied forces in the Battle of Gallipoli. Elizabeth too refuses to be a bystander and forges her own path as she shelters refugees and negotiates with military officials. But it’s not until decades later through the narrative of Laura that the reader begins to understand how the atrocities of war stayed with Armen and Elizabeth for the rest of their lives.

Despite the difficult subject matter, the Brown Baggers appreciated the novel for expanding their knowledge about the Armenian Genocide, an event they knew little or nothing about. They felt Bohjalian realistically portrayed trauma, particularly through the refugee child Hatoun, and those who had immigrant parents could relate to how Armen and Elizabeth did not discuss their past with their children and grandchildren. Unlike some war stories, the diverse cast of characters in The Sandcastle Girls demonstrated there are good people on both sides of a war. 

Some plot twists and the romance at the center of the story between Elizabeth and Armen felt a bit contrived to some of the Brown Baggers. Others were a bit disappointed that the novel barely touched on the role of religion in the Armenian Genocide, but all were impressed by how Bohjalian, a male author, captured the voices of his two primary female characters. 



Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

An Interview with Chris Bohjalian

History of Armenia

Armenian Museum of America

Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial

Los Angeles Mural Commemorating Armenian Genocide


The Brown Baggers will discuss The Soul of America by Jon Meacham on Thursday, October 24 at noon in the Central Library and newcomers are always welcome.

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