By Artyom Yerkanyan
Famous American writer Chris Bohjalian has dropped the idea of writing a sequel to his worldwide best-selling novel “The Sandcastle Girls.” He believes that his book about the Armenian Genocide has accomplished its mission, so he now wants to write about Armenian revival, not the Armenian tragedy.
Vermont-based Chris Bohjalian has written 18 books, ten of which have made it onto bestseller lists. The New York Times has proclaimed many of his novels as “national bestsellers.” His works have been translated into 28 languages and published in dozens of countries across five continents. Three of his novels have been made into Hollywood films.
Bohjalian’s “The Sandcastle Girls” is probably the best-known work about the Armenian Genocide, outsold only by “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” among books on the same subject. The Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews named Bohjalian’s novel “the best book of the year.” Washington Post and USA Today highly recommended it. American film director Eric Nazarian was asked to adapt “The Sandcastle Girls” to the screen (coming soon to a theater near you).
Given the success of “The Sandcastle Girls,” many of Chris’ friends and colleagues urged him to write a sequel, which he had seriously considered doing for a while. He even knew what the plot would be – a story of an Armenian family that survived the Genocide and whose pursuit of happiness brought it to America. “Had I decided to write the sequel to the novel, commercial success would have been guaranteed. But I thought I would serve my people better by making the reader feel happy, rather than sorry for Armenians,” he explained.
Bohjalian has just completed his latest novel. Its main character, an Armenian girl named Nvard, symbolizes the Armenian revival. A little girl from the city of Gyumri whose family died in the 1988 earthquake, she gradually comes back to life as she ages. Her story does not focus on the hardship the disaster imposed on Armenia, but rather highlights the capacity of the Armenian people to cope.
Bohjalian celebrates the revived Armenia and the nation’s strength.
“Fame is one of my greatest assets. People search for my books in bookstores. I thought I should take advantage of it to create the right image of my ancestors’ homeland,” he said. Bohjalian is convinced that all famous Armenians should make the same commitment.
Chris Bohjalian calls himself “Armenian,” not “American of Armenian origin,” as custom has it. A descendant of Kesaria-born Armenians (nowadays Kayseri, Modern Turkey), he is also proud of his Swedish blood (his mother is from Sweden). “My mother is not Armenian, but she did everything to raise me as a true Armenian,” he recalled. “When I was a child, she read to me books on Armenian history and stories by William Saroyan and Michael Arlen. After I first read a novel by the great Franz Werfel, she was the one I wanted to discuss it with. My mother thought it was an honor to be Armenian.”
Chris inherited his knack for writing from his ancestors.
It was only a short time ago that he learned about his grandfather Nazareth Petros Bohjalian, who was also a writer, a poet and a musician. “My friends helped me search Turkish archives,” he said. “I was astonished to learn that in the late 19th century, one of my ancestors was as popular in the Ottoman Empire as only rock stars can be today. He would be invited to Constantinople and Jerusalem to sing the songs he wrote. I can only try and guess what his future would have been like had it not been for the Genocide.”
Bohjalian has travelled to every corner of Western Armenia. This was his ancestors’ home, though for him the word “homeland” does not refer to any particular house or estate that belonged to his family. For Bohjalian, homeland is the country of Armenia. It can be the Dudan Gorge, where hundreds of slaughtered Armenians were thrown in 1915; the Kurdish village of Chunkush, with the last Armenian living in the area; or places like Bitlis and Van, Sardarabad and Tsitsernakaberd, Yerevan and Echmiadzin. “I can’t be away from Armenia for long,” said Chris. “Every once in a while, I need to go to my ancestors’ motherland in order to charge my spiritual batteries.” The energy that these batteries emit spreads warmth across the hearts of millions of readers who admire Bohjalian’s talent.
Artyom Yerkanyan is a well known Armenian journalist and TV personality.