Saturday, July 28, 2012


On Thursday evening, Marash Girl (along with 300 others) attended a presentation & book signing by author Chris Bohjalian for his newly published work, THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS. Today, THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS is #7 on the New York Times Best Seller List.
Beginning with the levity of a stand-up comedian, Chris Bohjalian spoke of his book tours; he commented, "The books about vampires got a lot of Americans reading and thinking again. . . . The good news is that there are still more public libraries in the United States than there are McDonald's!"  The following is a partial record of Chris Bohjalian's talk at the Armenian Library and Museum of America on Thursday night, July 26, 2012, as Marash Girl remembers it.

"My mother was Swedish, my father Armenian.  My father passed away 364 days ago.  After my father passed, we found my mother's key ring on his desk. On it were a religious medal and a brass charm from Armenia.  That was my mother, the "odar".  She was so close to my grandparents -- her in-laws -- that when my father went to play golf, my mother visited her in-laws.  She would dress me in an "English" outfit with red velvet knickers and have me sing "I'm Henry the 8th, I am, I am" for my grandparents, Leo and Haigouhi Bohjalian -- Their house was built in 1928, the floors were covered with oriental carpets, the furniture with Armenian lacework, the bookcases full of Armenian books in the Armenian language; and always the aroma of lamb and mint (my grandmother cooked lamb and mint for my grandfather every day for breakfast)!  [If you've read the novel, you will recognize some of these facts!]  Growing up in Tuckahoo, NY, my father knew no English when he entered kindergarten, but became the quintessential American -- A Madison Avenue TV producer.  I only heard him speak Armenian when he was teasing his parents, or bickering with them.  I looked at old family photos.   My grandfather and grandmother . . . the little boy is my dad.     I have this photo on my desk and I look at it every day. My grandfather always wore a suit --  the only time my father remembers him taking the suit jacket off was when my grandfather had to check the furnace!  My grandparents knew they were genocide survivors but never talked about it.  All of my great grandfather's generation were murdered.  .  .  In 1993 I tried to write a novel about the Armenian Genocide -- it took me 1 year and 3 months -- but it was unsalvageable and I had to package it up and send the manuscript to the archives of my alma mater . . . [Chris Bohjalian never mentioned the name of his alma mater. Chris graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College.]

[Chris continues.]  "The slaughter you know next to nothing about", the genocide of the Armenian people 1915-1920, is a desperately important story to tell, as genocide to peoples around the world continues to this day.  Yet once upon a time, people knew. The New York Times of the period ran 145 articles on the slaughter of the Armenians, and on August 30, 1939, Hitler commented, "Be merciless.  After all, who remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?"

[Chris continues.]  On Feb. 2, 2010, I was having coffee with my friend Khachig Mouradian, editor of the Armenian Weekly, who asked me, "When are you going to try again?"  At the time, my father was seriously ill, and the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide was looming (2015) . . . I decided, "Yes.  This is the time."  But I needed a personal way in -- I would never know their travails, but I knew them. My mother used to say that my grandparents' home was the "Ottoman annex of the Metropolitan Museum of Art".  Yes, I knew them.  Thus I began writing THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS, the narrator being the female version of me.  In this very building --  the Armenian Library and Museum of America -- the narrator sees a photo -- a clue to what becomes a love story and a detective story, and it is the story of what happened to the Armenian people in 1915.  This is the most important book I will ever write; it's the story I've lived a half century to tell.
Chris Bohjalian inscribes and signs the title page of his latest novel, THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS.


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