Remember when I wrote that post about how I picked up Sarah’s Key because I liked the cover, then read it and discovered it was all about the Holocaust?
Well, that kind of happened again. A few weeks ago, I went rogue from my list of books to read this year. I kept running in to books with subject matter and language I felt were unnecessary and marking them off the list. And in the middle of year at work that has been stressful, my reading has lost a little steam. So, one afternoon I was checking out the Kindle Store on Amazon (my Kindle app has proven quite helpful in giving books a test run so that I only buy copies of the ones I really love) and saw a book called The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. I downloaded it, thinking the description was interesting and the cover image was nice. Plus, I’d read Bohjalian’s earlier work Midwives years earlier and thought it was pretty good. And once again, Bohjalian, a man, was writing a novel from the viewpoint of a woman. It’s always interesting to me when men write in a woman’s voice and do it well, so I wanted to see if Bohjalian came off as authentic this time.
Then, I started reading the novel. Using two parallel timeframes, 1915 and the present, Bohjalian weaves a story about a young American woman, the Armenian genocide that time has generally forgotten, a love story, and a woman uncovering secrets about her grandparents in the present. And once again, just like with Sarah’s Key, I completely missed the fact that this book was about genocide.
Who reads two books in a matter of months that are about huge populations of people being exterminated and doesn’t realize it? Apparently, that person is me.
Ahem. Anyway. . . with such subject matter, the book has some undeniably hard-to-stomach and graphic scenes to read. Characters are motivated by sheer hate and revenge. Governments commit atrocities and others look on, doing nothing. And at the end, you don’t get to know everything that happened to all of the characters you’ve come to know and love. For me, Bohjalian wasn’t quite as successful at switching from past to present as he could have been. Sometimes, the shift happened within a matter of pages or paragraphs with nothing to signal the timeshift. I like to think of myself as a thoughtful, informed reader, but it was confusing sometimes.
I doubt I’ll ever read The Sandcastle Girls again. It’s good, but it’s not a lovely masterpiece that I want to stop in and visit all the time. It weaves a tale in a time in history that horrifies and frightens me, as I consider the depths of sinfulness and hatred that can rule a man’s heart.
But at the same time, I’m glad I read it. I’m glad I now know about the genocide of Armenians in the early 1900s, a fact my study of history had pretty much skipped over until now. So, I applaud Bohjalian on a well-written, well-researched, heart-wrenching book—but I probably won’t be adding a physical copy to my personal library.