I have just finished reading Chris Bohjalian’s masterpiece, The Sandcastle Girls. I do not use the word masterpiece lightly. Whether or not it is a masterpiece in the general pantheon of literature, I cannot say. I am too close to the subject matter. For Armenians, it is nothing less than a masterpiece. Upon finishing it, I could not help but sit down and immediately write this brief review and reflection.
I started it yesterday; it lured me in slowly. I have not read any of Bohjalian’s other books, thinking, rightly or wrongly, that they were written for a female audience. I was immediately impressed with his style and skill. I realized why he was such a popular and revered author. Flat out, the man can spin a yarn. He can weave a story. He can describe things delicately or intensely as called for in the plot. This morning, I could do nothing but finish reading the book. I wanted to write that I could not put the book down. The truth is that I put it down several times to think, ponder, wonder, shudder, and wipe a tear from my eye.
It made me think of my family members, including my maternal grandmother’s sister Khatoun, who shares a name with a character in the book. Just a handful of us even know she existed. I thought of my family members who survived, and who I knew however briefly. I thought of all those who did not, and of whom I have the vaguest knowledge. I remembered that most of my family, as well as my wife’s, are from Kharpert. I kept thinking about my relatives still in Aleppo and prayed they are doing well. We have lost touch with them over the years and that saddens me.
The novel is brilliant, engaging, well crafted, mesmerizing, and full of hope, and, as in all books about the Armenian Genocide, full of examples of the horrors mankind can inflict on mankind. Every Armenian should read it. Every Turk ought to read it. Some will; most won’t. It is a novel that certainly appeals to the descendants of those who lived through the times described, namely Turks and Armenians. It is also a novel that stands on its own. It would not have risen to 7th on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction List if it were only Armenians reading it.
I cannot and will not write a synopsis of the book. Simply, get a copy of the book and read it. Suffice it to say it takes place then and now. It is autobiographical, and it is not. It is fact and fiction. It is full of serendipity that somehow is not a surprise. It is horribly sad and somehow wonderfully hopeful. It portrays Turks that were evil and Turks that would be considered saintly in either religion. It is in the grand tradition of Armenian storytelling of “Once there was and was not” (Gar oo chigar).
Thank you, Chris Bohjalian, for this most special gift.