Bohjalian's latest novel is his most personal and powerful.
In "The Sandcastle Girls," Laura Petrosian is a novelist who "built [her] career" writing "about New Agey women on the social margins."
As it happens, so has author Chris Bohjalian, whose books have been about a midwife, a holistic healer and a transgendered person, among other interesting subjects.
It becomes clear early on that Petrosian is the author's stand-in, an explorer in search of Armenian roots almost 100 years after the "slaughter you know next to nothing about."
As a young Boston Brahmin, Petrosian's grandmother, Elizabeth Endicott, traveled to Aleppo in the Ottoman Empire to aid refugees caught up in the Turkish slaughter of Armenians. There she meets and falls in love with Armen, an engineer whose wife and child have died.
Elizabeth and Armen survive "the slaughter, starvation and disease" relatively unscathed, travel to the United States, and live the American dream of middle-class prosperity and family. But even as a child, Laura sensed "an aura of sadness, secrets and wistfulness" in their lives. When she discovers an old photo of an Armenian woman with the same last name, she investigates and makes an unsettling discovery.
It's not difficult to figure out the ending, but it is handled with such skill that it seems perfect.
Bohjalian is a literary novelist unafraid to reference Proust's madeleine and expect readers to get it. But his books are also filled with artfully drawn characters and great, passionate storytelling. "The Sandcastle Girls" is all that, but different, more powerful. His descriptions of the brutality, the genocide, make it obvious that this time it's personal.