The Sandcastle Girls - Chris Bohjalian ETA: No, I didn’t really like this book. I just gave it three stars because I am glad Bohjalian wrote a book about the genocide. The narration was off, I didn’t like the two threads, particularly the modern one, and parts are written for the movies, i.e .way too theatrical, and yes even fluffy! I have changed the rating from three to two stars.

On completion:

I will give this three stars. Part of the problem is that there are two threads, a historical one and a modern one. I generally do not like that. The author did this to lighten the tone because the subject matter is so very d-i-f-f-i-c-u-l-t!!!! Bohjalian states this in an interview at the end. All genocides, and the horrific events of the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Turks in 1915, are really horrible. 1.5 million Armenians were killed. What is related is taken from history. These are the facts that must be acknowledged, and yet Turkey continues to deny what they did. I think it is great that such a well-known author tackles this topic in an easy to read book of fiction. It has romance and suspense; the ingredients that attract people toward a book of fiction. Bohjalian maybe has hopes for a film version? I could imagine this almost being written for that purpose. Whether you like books like that is up to you. It definitely does teach much of what should be known about this genocide.

If you have not before read about the Armenian genocide of 1915, this may be a good book to start with. There are many other books written on this topic. There are wonderful biographies. Here follows a link to my Armenian shelf for other detailed and excellent books: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/632247-chrissie?format=html&shelf=armenia . The most comprehensive is: Armenian Golgotha

What is my view of the narration by Cassandra Campbell and Alison Fraser? It is patchy; some sections good, some sections less so. It is very disturbing when gruesome events of the Armenian genocide are spoken of in a light and sometimes even flippant tone. This does not happen consistently. Chapter 9 takes us to the refugee camp in Der Azore. Here, Campbell’s voice carries just the right lilt. She well expressed people of different nationalities. Perhaps part of the difficulty in narrating this book is that given the seriousness of the topic, we the listeners demand a performance with no errors.

Concerning the thread set in modern times, there is a lighter often jovial tone. It is tricky to capture both this joviality and switch to a respectful tone when the events are about the genocide. The author’s words in the modern thread are often sarcastic. To say such words in a flippant manner is not incorrect. Laura, writing of her grandparents says:

But history does matter. There are lines connecting the Armenians and the Jews and the Cambodians and the Serbs and the Rwandans. They are obviously morbid. Really, how much genocide can one sentence handle? You get the point. Besides, my grandparents’ story deserves to be told, regardless of their nationalities.(chapter12)

How much of the inappropriateness is the result of the author’s choice of words and how much is the fault of a narrator? This quote shows you that here it is the author’s words that are “disrespectful”. What can Alison Fraser do? She must say this in a flippant manner! One cannot criticize her for this. (Please see “IN CHAPTER 7” and “THROUGH CHAPTER 6” for other examples.) I am not quite sure where to put the blame, but the book is far too often disturbing to listen to/ read. This has nothing to do with the brutality of the events. The events of the Armenian genocide must be told, but with both the right words and intonations.


IN CHAPTER 7:

I have begun chapter 7. The audio narrator is currently Alison Fraser. I know, this is crazy, but I have trouble concentrating on the author's text! I focus instead on which narrator is speaking! Even in the middle of a chapter the audio narrators (Cassandra Campbell and Alison Fraser) and the book narrators (Elizabeth Endicott, the paternal grandmother, and Laura Petrosian, the granddaughter writing a book about her family) change. This isn't a compliment. What I do want to point out now is a compliment. Laura Petrosian, the author, is very funny when she speaks of ethnic Armenian stereotypes: Armenians are "nice, industrious and capable of weaving attractive rugs"! Or maybe that is a compliment of Fraser……


THROUGH CHAPTER 6:
I am listening to the audiobook. There are two narrators: Cassandra Campbell and Alison Fraser. For me their super American, kind of flippant tone is irritating.... particularly Campbell’s. Then when Fraser speaks she is cooler and yet I STILL feel a sarcasm and disdain that is sometimes inappropriate. Her tone is so different from Campbell’s. I cannot figure out if it is the words of the author or the tone of voices that irritates me. Or am I supposed to be irritated. I am kind of confused by my reactions. I do not understand what is bothering me.

OK, I found an exact example where I can point out what is wrong with the narration. Laura Petrosian is writing about her Armenian grandfather. In this case the narrator is Alison Fraser. The text reads:

Why did my Armenian grandfather have a lamb chop every morning for breakfast?

And the answer follows:

It is because he could. It is just that simple, because he could!

The tone that Fraser uses comes out meaning exactly what those words say. However the real meaning is more. The tone should imply the idea that her grandfather wasn’t able to eat that lamb chop before, and that is why it was important to eat it now, every single morning. Always, because he couldn’t before. How do you get this across? By pauses, by voice inflection, by the speed with which the text is related.

Then the narrator changes to Campbell. Elizabeth and her father are disputing over the appropriateness of bringing some of the Armenian refugees into the American compound. Elizabeth insists on bringing two in, and she wins over her father. After this confrontation, the lines read: “she skips down the corridor”. And what does that mean? Does she skip because she is happy? She won over her father!? Or does it mean that she is not aware of the seriousness of the whole situation? If you read this text you get no hint from any tonal variation, you can figure out yourself what those words mean. However when the text is read out-loud, you do get a message. I hear a flippant tone, which is extremely irritating.

If one reads a text of horrible import too smoothly or even too exaggeratedly the whole sense can be misunderstood! Tone is important. It is one of the things we cannot get across properly here on internet. Maybe I am nitpicking, but for me the narration is not working.

Maybe my view will change as I continue, but I am not pleased so far!