the sandcastle girls

War and genocide are things of men, not women. Dehumanizing another, a requisite of such acts, is diametrically opposed to their nature as those who bring life and who nurture it. Instead women are the victims who are raped and tortured, taken and killed, stripped of their spouses and children and their dignity, of all that is dear to them, and required to continue on if only to sustain those who survive.

I suppose by now I can see the pattern of the way I am drawn to stories of women displaying unimaginable strength and bravery amidst the chaos of war, the unimaginable senselessness of genocide, yet each one surprises me with the depth of courage and the ability to not only survive but thrive amidst such darkness.

Rather sheepishly I admit that until recently I knew about as much about the Armenian genocide as I did about the author of The Sandcastle Girls, Chris Bohjalian… which is next to nothing.

Oh yes, I’d heard of both and knew the basic facts of the conflict between the Armenians and the Turks under the Ottomans, the massacres which Turkey to this day denies. I knew the titles of many of Bohjalian’s books, and well remembered struggling with the spelling of his name on my lists of books to read. As for the conflict, I might offer the typical response of one who does not want to admit ignorance: “I have an Armenian friend,” which I do, but other than a few brief discussions we have not spoken much of the past, of the history of her family and so many others who were affected by those terrible days and years not all that long ago.

There is a particular sensation when one reads fiction based on real events. When well written, somehow these characters burn themselves more deeply into the reader’s thoughts, they course through your veins and rest in the curled spaces of your heart. They become, in a certain sense, more real.

I wrote a bit about the book, here, and since then have been living with Elizabeth and Armen, Hatoun and Nevart and, of course, Laura. They are—and the author has confirmed this—purely fictional characters, but Bohjalian (who is part Armenian) has painted them with a brush dipped in the hues of his own experience to portray the conflict in a way that is painfully and movingly personal.

I imagine that it is no coincidence that this book comes out now, less than three years away from the centennial of the genocide upon which it is based, and am hopeful that this means a movie is being hatched which will be released around that date. It would make for an incredible film, the complexity and extremes of the situation distilled into the stories of a few characters whose lives intersect, past and present, characters who we care deeply about not only as their lives are played out before us on the page, but long afterwards.

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