“How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing? You kill them in the middle of nowhere.”

sandcastle girlsThe Brown Baggers met Thursday, September 20 to discuss Chris Bohjalian’s historical fiction novel The Sandcastle Girls.

Bohjalian’s 15th and most personal novel is a sweeping story of love, loss, courage, and the immigrant experience set against the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923. Bohjalian weaves together two generations of the Petrosian family; there is Elizabeth Endicott, an American aid worker volunteering in Syria in 1915, who witnesses the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide, and her granddaughter, Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in present day suburban New York who uncovers the unspeakable tragedies her grandparents faced during World War I. 

In 1915 Elizabeth meets and falls in love with Armen, an Armenian engineer who has lost his wife and infant daughter at the hands of Turkish soldiers. Unable to stand by and watch his fellow countrymen die, Armen risks his own life to cross the desert and join the Allied forces in the Battle of Gallipoli. Elizabeth too refuses to be a bystander and forges her own path as she shelters refugees and negotiates with military officials. But it’s not until decades later through the narrative of Laura that the reader begins to understand how the atrocities of war stayed with Armen and Elizabeth for the rest of their lives.

Despite the difficult subject matter, the Brown Baggers appreciated the novel for expanding their knowledge about the Armenian Genocide, an event they knew little or nothing about. They felt Bohjalian realistically portrayed trauma, particularly through the refugee child Hatoun, and those who had immigrant parents could relate to how Armen and Elizabeth did not discuss their past with their children and grandchildren. Unlike some war stories, the diverse cast of characters in The Sandcastle Girls demonstrated there are good people on both sides of a war. 

Some plot twists and the romance at the center of the story between Elizabeth and Armen felt a bit contrived to some of the Brown Baggers. Others were a bit disappointed that the novel barely touched on the role of religion in the Armenian Genocide, but all were impressed by how Bohjalian, a male author, captured the voices of his two primary female characters. 

 

Mentioned:

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

An Interview with Chris Bohjalian

History of Armenia

Armenian Museum of America

Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial

Los Angeles Mural Commemorating Armenian Genocide

 

The Brown Baggers will discuss The Soul of America by Jon Meacham on Thursday, October 24 at noon in the Central Library and newcomers are always welcome.

“Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition.”

vinegar girl.jpgBooks on Tap read Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler at Champion Brewery on September 5. Anne Tyler’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew was a delightful summer read in which everyone made it out happy (or happyish) ever after. Many participants had read Tyler’s other novels but only a few had read or seen the original play. As was pointed out, marriages don’t fare well in Shakespeare. This particular work seems ripe for adaptation because the original reads as cruel and misogynistic to the modern audience. 

In Tyler’s playful, broadly funny version, Kate is in her late 20s and  lives at home with her eccentric scientist father and 15 year old sister. Having dropped out of college after insulting a professor, she seems stuck. She is wildly out of sync with the ethos of the pre-school where she works, she follows her father’s bizarre efficeniety regime at home and is at odds with her outgoing sister. Her life is shaken up when her father strongly suggests she marry his Russian lab assistant Pytor, who is in danger of being deported when his visa runs out later in the year. 

Against her inclination, she begins to see the benefit in teaming up with Pytor. It’s not a fully emancipated stance, because she’s still viewing the marriage as a transaction and a fairly patriarchal one at that. However, she acknowledges that compromises are necessary in a relationship and that if she gives Pytor room to express all of his feelings (loneliness, joy, grief, curiosity) they can share the emotional work.

What we most enjoyed in this work was the call back to other adaptations (“Kiss me, Katya”), the comedy and the gentle, sympathetic touch Tyler took with all her characters. While it may not be a classic in it’s own right, it did spark some of us to check out her other novels.

More Information:

About the author 

Reviews from The Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, The New York Times and NPR.

Other Hogarth Shakespeare Titles

 

 Books on Tap Information:

 

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“Life can be hard. I know how hard it can be. And then she said, ‘Déjate querer.’ Let yourself be loved.”

9781471171031The LGBTQ Book club met way back in March at the Central Library to discuss The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz. It follows Sal through his senior year in high school as he struggles with his identity as the adopted white son of a very supportive gay Mexican-American man, his place in his loving extended family and the trials faced by his best friends.

Book club members liked this poignant coming-of-age story. It isn’t plot driven, but the characters are so well conceived and complex and the story is so uplifting that the pace doesn’t flag. Even in a long book we wanted to hear more from Sal’s supportive family and his best friend, a girl named Sam. It was refreshing that Sam and Sal could be friends without romantic complications. However, we agreed that Sal’s father Vicente was the real star of the novel. His unending patience allowed him to embrace his ex-boyfriend Marcos, to take care of both Sam and Sal’s other friend Fito and to have a successful career as an artist. At times he seemed too saintly, but is certainly an aspirational character. His orientation was both slowly revealed and fully integrated into the story. He becomes the de facto dad to these three motherless teens.

Vicente gives Sal a letter Sal’s dead mother wrote to him. The plot hinges on Sal’s decision to open the letter but we all felt that was secondary to getting to know the characters. We were a bit surprised with what he does with it (especially in a world with social media) but thought the ending was deserved.

We also discussed intersex. Here’s one explanation.

Join us tomorrow for our final meeting as we discuss The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara. We’ll also be hosting an LGBTQ book swap at Central on September 15 from 2-4. Bring your own books and leave with new-to-you  titles. 

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author
About the book
Other works

Posted in LGBTQ Book Club