On My Bookshelf: The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

June 09, 2015

The basic plot: The novel flashes between the past and present. In the past, before the US joins World War I, Elizabeth and her father travel to Syria to aid the Armenians, who are being persecuted by the Turks. During her stay in Aleppo in the American Embassy, Elizabeth tends to the wounded, sickly, and weary after their march across the desert. She falls in love with Armen, a young Armenian who has lost his wife and young child in the genocide. In the present, Laura, Elizabeth's granddaughter is a novelist recounting her family history as you learns more about it and discovers some dark secrets.
Why I liked it: Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and this novel doesn't disappoint. There is a much greater focus on World War Two in historical fiction novels, so this focus on WWI and the Armenian genocide was a nice to see light shed on another era. There is also the terrible irony of the Germans who are horrified by the Turks' treatment on the Armenians.

Elizabeth, the main character, is a very relatable character. As a young woman, she is growing into herself: sometimes childish, but at other times giving and courageous. I can't imagine seeing and doing all that she does at her age in that time period.

Classroom application: This novel would be a great fiction text to use when teaching about US isolation, World War I, and/or genocide. Compared to the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide is a much lesser known event, but with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide recently commemorated on April 24, 2015, the event has gained more attention. The events in the novel could be compared to the more recent issues of genocide in Rwanda, Cambodia, and Darfur.

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