I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Sandcastle Girls is a novel that outlines the lives of several characters, both past and present, and how their lives were impacted by the Armenian Genocide in 1915.
I was also among the readers who had never heard of the Armenian Genocide until I picked up this book. I was immediately drawn in to Elizabeth and Armen's story which took place predominately in Aleppo, Syria in 1915. Horrified by the things that had taken place there (and the fact that I had never even heard of it), I quickly began doing a little research online. I think it says a lot about an author when the story they are telling makes me want to research a topic further. Bohjalian takes a really difficult subject and sheds light on it in a way that is respectful and not overly dramatic. He doesn't add the violence and the gore for sake of shocking the reader, but he delicately weaves it throughout the story, giving us a gripping look into the horrors that took place there.
If I had to give any criticism, it would be that the switching between the past and present story lines felt a bit jarring. I was so engrossed in the story taking place in Aleppo, that it made the current day narrative feel more like a disruption. While initially irritated by this, I began to realize that the author was intentionally trying to show how much time can dilute the events of history. Future generations sometimes end up with this watered-down view of what happened; for example, Laura knew that Turks and Armenians didn't like each other based on the actions of her parents, but never fully understood the depth or magnitude of the circumstances behind it. That being said, even if it was intentional I was never able to fully connect with the present day narrator. I found myself having to check the synopsis several times just to remember her name.
Overall this was a very enjoyable book. Though the subject matter is at times difficult, the author tells the story with elegance and grace. I definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fan of historical fiction.