Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Sandcastle Girls

Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls is the story of Elizabeth Endicott, an American who travels to Aleppo, Syria with her diplomat father in 1915 to aid Armenian refugees driven from Ottoman Turkey.  She meets and falls in love with Armen, an Armenian engineer who is suffering from the loss of his wife and child.

Unfortunately, Bohjalian couches Armen and Elizabeth’s story within that of their American granddaughter, Laura, who is learning about her grandparents’ history.  Not only is Laura not an interesting character, but her story is jarring and distracting from the heart of the narrative.  In addition, her existence takes away from the book’s dramatic tension since it is clear from the beginning that not only do both Elizabeth and Armen survive but they also marry and reproduce.

I wanted to like this book more than I did.  Part of my discontent is because I did not find Elizabeth an attractive or appealing character.  I couldn’t imagine what about her character was compelling enough to bring Armen out of his emotional comma.  Part of it is because Bohjalian does not just let the horror of history provide the book’s painful drama.  Instead, he concludes with a dramatic, and unnecessary, scene that detracts from the historical context and left me with a deep feeling of unease. 

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