For years, the stories were told in hushed voices. The tragic true-life tales would escape the lips of the survivors in the privacy of their homes as they revealed their struggles to family members, not only to ease the burdens of their harrowing pasts, but to make sure one of the most mournful chapters in the history of their people would never be forgotten.
For too long, it had been a story only for Armenians. With the
emergence of a new generation of writers, however, came a new approach.
They believed that the stories previously told in secrecy should now be
told to the world. The latest of these is New York Times best-selling
author Chris Bohjalian’s critically acclaimed novel The Sandcastle Girls.
On Thursday evening, April 18, Bohjalian will lead a book discussion at
Columbia University, in an event hosted by the Armenian Center at
A love story that takes place during the Armenian Genocide between an Armenian engineer and an American nurse, The Sandcastle Girls follows
a genocide survivor’s granddaughter as she tries to uncover her
family’s history and the sorrows of the Armenian massacres that she
learns about along the way.
Bohjalian, who is the author of 16 books, has received high praise
and accolades from literary critics and readers since his first novel
was published 25 years ago. His novel, Midwives, was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club, and Winfrey also selected The Sandcastle Girls as
her Book of the Week last summer. Literary praise for Bohjalian’s
writing and for the accurate historical portrayal of the Armenian
Genocide in The Sandcastle Girls has been covered by such major news outlets as USA Today, Washington Post, and the Boston Globe.
Although the lamentable premise of The Sandcastle Girls is
familiar to Armenians, it has been a moment of pride to have such a book
published, as they continue to seek justice and worldwide acceptance
for the atrocities committed against their ancestors.
“I have been overwhelmed by the support for this novel by the
Armenian community around the world. I am deeply and profoundly
grateful,” said Bohjalian, whose Armenian grandparents on his father’s
side were survivors of the Armenian Genocide. “Whenever I’ve spoken to
audiences that are predominantly Armenian, I have left moved beyond
words,” he said.
The reaction from non-Armenians towards The Sandcastle Girls has
been equally positive. “Consistently non-Armenians have asked me the
same sort of question: Why did no one teach me this? Why does no one
know this story? They are appalled and, sometimes, aghast,” said
Bohjalian. “This is a part of our story that too few people know, and we
all hope this novel will help open people’s eyes to a cataclysmic
Mark Momjian, the chair of the Armenian Center, expressed the
significance of Bohjalian’s appearance on campus. “The enormous power of
Chris Bohjalian’s literary art has been recognized worldwide, and his
masterful novel, The Sandcastle Girls, is of particular
interest to the area’s Armenian-American community, who in just two
years will be commemorating the centennial of the Armenian Genocide,”
said Momjian. “I know the center’s friends and supporters are eager to
hear this distinguished writer, whose originality and brilliance have
touched so many hearts.”
Dr. Nicole Vartanian, the vice chair of the Armenian Center, said the
Armenian Center is excited to be hosting Bohjalian upon the paperback
release of The Sandcastle Girls. “His passionate portrayal of
love and loss set amidst the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide has
rightly earned him widespread praise from all corners of the literary
community,” she said. “It seems particularly fitting that our event will
take place at Teachers College, given the rich and robust educational
content which forms the foundation of Chris’ novels. The Sandcastle Girls is
an especially poignant example of this, as the story has educated
masses of Chris’ loyal readers who learned the horrific events of the
genocide through the quality of his research and the power of his
“My sense is that this may be the most important book I ever write,”
said Bohjalian, who first attempted to write about the Armenian
Genocide 15 years ago. “I hope with all my heart that this time I have
gotten it right.”
The book discussion of The Sandcastle Girls will take place on
Thurs., April 18, at 7 p.m. in the Cowin Conference Center (147 Horace
Mann Hall) at Columbia University Teachers College, 525 W. 120th Street,
between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. A question-and-answer session,
reception, and a book signing will take place after the presentation.