Chris Bohjalian’s novel “The Sandcastle Girls” has many traditional elements of compelling fiction — people with secrets, shocking plot twists, compulsively likable characters and a rich love story. It also describes the 1915 mass killing of Armenians — “The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About,” as one of the characters in his book calls it, the Baltimore Sun writes.
Bohjalian, who is at work on his 17th book, was inspired to write this one by the story of his Armenian grandparents. The author will talk about the novel April 22 as part of the new Baltimore Sun Book Club.
The novel begins in 1915 when Elizabeth Endicott, who has just graduated from Mount Holyoke, joins her father in Syria as part of a Boston-based group hoping to bring relief to Armenians being displaced by Turks in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. The situation is horrific: Armenians are being annihilated, taken out into the desert into death camps.
In the midst of the chaos, Elizabeth meets Armen, a handsome young Armenian. His wife and infant daughter were rounded up by the Turks in the village of Harput. He is hoping he might find them in convoys of refugees arriving daily in Aleppo. But as each day passes, it becomes increasingly clear that they are gone.
Bohjalian’s narrative of the complicated love story of Elizabeth and Armen is woven around another narrative: a first-person account by Laura Petrosian, their granddaughter. Her grandparents, now deceased, never talked about their past, but now that Laura is in her 30s, she sets out to discover more about the genocide and her grandparents.