Sep 6th, 2012 by Annie
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
|The Sandcastle Girls
Elizabeth Endicotte, a 21-year old missionary from “one of Boston’s most priggish families” arrives in Aleppo, Syria during World War I with her father to assist the women and children refugees of 1915 Armenian Genocide by the Turkish Ottomon Empire.
Armen Petrosian is an Armenian engineer working with the Germans in Aleppo. Armen has escaped the genocide and is desperately trying to find out the fate of his wife Karine and his infant daughter.
American novelist, Laura Gemignani knew her grandparents had survived the Armenian Genocide of 1915, but the genocide was a topic never discussed at home. Curious about the genocide and interested in her ancestral heritage, Laura’s first attempt at writing about the genocide was unsuccessful and the project was shelved.
Years later, an old photograph of a genocide refugee appears in the Boston Globe accompanied by an article on an upcoming exhibit called The Apostates. The woman identified in the photo caption bears the surname Petrosian. This prompts Laura to dig deeper and to explore further the Armenian Genocide, and the story of Armen and Elizabeth Endicotte Petrosian, her grandparents.
Book Club Ideas
In The Sandcastle Girls, two of the many scenes that stand out for me were when Laura found her father’s tin soldier collection from the 1930′s in the attic and brought them down to show her brother (pg. 156-157) and when Elizabeth gave the young Armenian orphan, Hatoun, a doll named Annika (pg. 95).
As Laura and her brother played with the soldiers, Armen notices and recalls an Australian soldier named Taylor he has never forgotten. (pg. 156-157)
Hatoun quickly dispatches of Annika’s cloth body after receiving the doll from Elizabeth and carries only the doll’s head around with her. Annika becomes a touchstone for Hatoun during her terrifying childhood, and she renames the head. (pg. 211)
There is so much in this city that terrifies her, but there is much that is interesting, too. And it seems that as long as she has Nevart at night and Shoushan by day, she will never wind up like her family or that blond girl in that strange children’s book. Alice.
She reaches into her smock and pulls from it Annika’s head. She kisses the doll’s forehead and in her mind renames the skull Alice.
I found WWI Army Soldiers at Amazon.com and I separated a doll’s head from its body for my decorations. (NOTE: I quickly reunited head and body after I taking this photo before my treachery was discovered!)
Laura’s grandfather would play Armenian folk songs on his ood or “strum it like a madman while her aunt belly danced.” (pg. 4 and pg. 167) The ood (oud) is an ancient stringed Middle Eastern instrument which possibly originated in Persia thousands of years ago.
Book Club Menu
The Sandcastle Girls has some great descriptions of food. Laura describes the Armenian culture flourishing in Watertown, Massachusetts and, notably, the Armenian bakeries with Armenian desserts “worth every single calorie.” (pg. 49) My sister Lisa just so happened to be in Boston while I was working on this post, so she stopped by Watertown and visited Sevan Bakery. Lisa agreed with the desserts being worth the calories. Below is a photo she took of a dessert tray. I knew I had to give the tahini bread (pictured at right) and the mamouls (pictured at left) a try. If you happen to live in the Boston area you can get authentic Armenian desserts to serve at your book club party or give my recipes a try below. These desserts are very, very good.
Laura, a self-acknowledged “bad cook” whose kitchen is “a very scary place” credits her DNA with her ability to work with phyllo dough and create “aesthetically perfect” boregs — “each an obtuse isosceles with crisp edges and sharp points.” (pg. 114-115)
Although, my boregs are far from “aesthetically perfect,” they are delicious. Yes, phyllo dough is a little tricky to work with, but its well worth the effort.
Laura, recalling the ways her grandparents’ house was different (pg. 5),
There was always the enveloping aroma of cooked lamb and mint, because my grandfather insisted on lamb chops even for breakfast… My sense early on was that anything with lamb was a “king meal.”
I do agree. My favorite cut of lamb is the loin chop and it’s hard to beat, especially when grilled. A “king meal”:
You might want to include pomegranate wine or pomegranate molasses on your book club menu. Armen reminiscences about pomegranate wine and fresh pomegranates as he and Elizabeth walk the streets of Aleppo. At the market, a vendor promises Armen to have pomegranate molasses the following day. (pg. 41-42) Pomegranate molasses is used in dressings, as a marinade, a dipping sauce, or to give flavor to any number of Middle Eastern dishes. Pomegranate molasses is very tart tasting.
Book Club Resources
Ratings at the time this post was published
|Goodreads: 4.02 stars (1,645 ratings)|
|Amazon: 4.3 stars (93 ratings)|
|LibraryThing: 4.08 stars (72 ratings)|
|My Rating: 4.5 The Sandcastle Girls is set during the horrific Armenian Genocide of 1915. This novel is compelling and painful, but it is also a story of enduring love. Author Bohjalian is of Armenian descent and this novel is a tribute to his heritage. He has called it “the most important book” he will ever write.|
- The Sandcastle Girls moves between two time periods, 1915 and the the present. Did you like going back and forth between the two periods as you read the novel?
- Elizabeth comes to Aleppo with her father in 1915 to aid Armenian refugees. She has recently graduated from Mount Holyoke where she had an “inappropriate” relationship with a professor. Her father brings her to Aleppo hoping she will realize her blessings, return to Boston and settle into marriage. But things don’t go quite as Elizabeth’s father plans. Discuss the development of Elizabeth during her time in Aleppo. In what ways does Elizabeth gain confidence and power?
- Elizabeth is instantly drawn to Armen upon meeting him. What attracts Armen to Elizabeth?
- Armen finds himself comparing Elizabeth to Karine. In what ways are Elizabeth and Karine similar? In what ways are they different?
- What did the doll Annika represent to Hatoun? What was the significance of Hatoun renaming Annika, Alice?
- Do you agree with the decision Elizabeth made at the end of chapter 19? Why or why not?
Discussion questions from LitLovers.com can be found HERE.
Purchase The Sandcastle Girls at your favorite bookseller
|Chris Bohjalian has authored fifteen books. Chris won the New England Book Award in 2002. The Sandcastle Girls is a New York Times bestseller, a Publishers’ Weekly bestseller, an IndieBound bestseller, and an Oprah.com Book of the Week. His novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, a Publishers Weekly “Best Book,” and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. Three of his novels, “Secrets of Eden,” “Midwives,” and “Past the Bleachers” have been adapted to movies. Chris graduated from Amherst College, and lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter. (Adapted from the Chris Bohjalian website)|
Other Works by Author and Recommended Reading
Personal Insights, Favorite Quotes, etc…
Karine surmises on the origin behind the clinking of goblets together after toasting (pg. 45):
A glass of wine already appealed to four senses: taste, sight, touch, and smell. The tinkling of the glasses appealed to the fifth — and final — sense: sound.
I mentioned above that Lisa visited Boston while I was working on this post in Texas. In addition to stopping by Sevan Bakery in Watertown for some wonderful Armenian baked goods, she also visited the Armenian Monument with her family. Here a couple pictures of of the monument, including Lisa’s boys in the grassy maze.
Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for The Sandcastle Girls? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.
Copyright © 2013 ButteryBooks.com All Rights Reserved.