The Sandcastle Girls


In 1915, a young American named Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Aleppo  then part of the Ottoman Empire to begin aid work on behalf of the Armenian people.  Her first experience of the city is in its central square, where dozens of skeletal, naked women and children have arrived after being marched through the desert.  As Elizabeth volunteers in an Aleppo hospital, tending the sick and starved victims of the death marches, she meets Armen Petrosian, an Armenian engineer who has lost his family to the genocide and is determined to fight on behalf of his people.

Armen and Elizabeth's relationship is complicated by violent secrets and unexpected revelations, and the full truth of their time together in Aleppo is only unraveled decades later by their granddaughter Laura.  A novelist obsessed with discovering the story of her family's past, she begins investigating what really happened to Armen's first family the wife and child who disappeared in the Syrian desert.  Haunting and impeccably researched, The Sandcastle Girls is an engrossing novel set against the backdrop of one of history's most horrifying and glossed-over tragedies.

"Then the officer brings his whistle to his mouth and blows, and the noise sounds oddly muted after the endless blasts from the naval guns.  Still, Armen knows this is their cue, so he reaches over the lip of the trench and pulls himself up with the other soldiers, aware that he is going to charge forward into the night both because this is what he has been ordered to do and because of his memories of his wife and his daughter and his older brother.  Because before him move the people who have slaughtered his family and are endeavoring now to exterminate all traces of his race.  It is better to die here, fighting, than be slaughtered like sheep on a ravine beside the Euphrates or starved in the Syrian desert."

Chris Bohjalian is the author of more than a dozen novels, including The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, The Light in the Ruins, and Midwives.  He lives in Vermont.

Published:  2012
Length:  299 pages
Main Setting:  Aleppo, Syria
Secondary setting:  Bronxville, New York