"The Sandcastle Girls" (Doubleday), by Chris Bohjalian
It takes a talented novelist to combine fully ripened characters, an engrossing storyline, exquisite prose and set it against a horrific historical backdrop — in this case, the Armenian genocide — and completely enchant readers.
The prolific and captivating Chris Bohjalian has done it all — again — with his 15th book, "The Sandcastle Girls."
Readers will recognize the author from his best-selling "Midwives," which caught Oprah Winfrey's attention in 1998. This time, it's 1915 and, again, his protagonist is a feisty woman, Elizabeth Endicott, a 21-year-old graduate of Mount Holyoke who shatters stereotypes by traveling to Syria to deliver food and aid to refugees of the genocide.
And, again, Bohjalian shifts his novel back and forth in time to simultaneously tell the story of Laura Petrosian, an Armenian-American writer living in New York. It never feels clunky or tough to follow. Instead, it's seamless and keeps the reader flowing evenly through the story.
It's worth noting that even though Bohjalian is a man, his ability to successfully inhabit the female mind and accurately depict his characters' inner lives is amazing.
"The Sandcastle Girls," while perhaps not the "beachy" read its title implies, is a fascinating journey through time and history. It also educates readers about a little-known, but significant period in history — "How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing," his author-character writes. "You kill them in the middle of nowhere."