Jones Library program focuses on Armenian genocide
AMHERST — In the early 1980s, Vermont writer Chris Bohjalian was an undergraduate at Amherst College.
Thirty years later, Bohjalian, with a string of best-selling and critically acclaimed novels under his belt, will return to Amherst next month to discuss his 2012 novel “The Sandcastle Girls.”
A New York Times best-seller, the book will be the focus of the second series of “On the Same Page” programs put on by the Jones Library throughout March.
The novel, which won an award from the Armenian National Committee of America and earned praise on many lists of the best books of 2012, describes the Armenian genocide in Turkey that began in 1915. The book has two parallel stories, one featuring Elizabeth, a Mount Holyoke College graduate who accompanies her father to Aleppo in Syria to aid Armenian refugees, the other featuring Elizabeth’s granddaughter Laura, who lives in New York and tries to make sense of her grandmother’s life.
The program will include discussions and presentations and conclude with a visit by Bohjalian at 7:30 p.m. March 25 at the middle school auditorium.
A discussion at 2:30 p.m. March 8 in the Goodwin Room at the Jones will be led by Barry O’Connell, a professor emeritus of English at Amherst College who taught Bohjalian.
O’Connell called Bohjalian a classic realist with a focus on character and moral dilemmas.
“He brings through ordinary situations a quite complex moral intelligence,” O’Connell said.
Those who read this novel will especially enjoy getting to know the author when he visits, O’Connell said.
“He’s very steady, genial and present to other people, but you never feel you’re in the presence of an artist,” O’Connell said.
Though he hasn’t yet read “The Sandcastle Girls” yet, O’Connell said he hopes to draw people into a discussion of their experiences as readers and have them think seriously about the book. This will last between an hour and 90 minutes.
For O’Connell, this marks a commitment to not being trapped in academia, just as last year he helped lead a discussion of Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” for the first “On the Same Page.”
Janet Ryan, head of programming and outreach at the Jones, said a committee of staff librarians worked on selecting the book, considering factors such as themes, relevance and interest of the community and whether the author could come to build participation.
“An added attraction is the fact that author Chris Bohjalian has ties to Amherst, being a graduate of Amherst College,” Ryan said. “He lives in Vermont, and is available to speak here about this book.”
Ryan said the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide approaching also made “The Sandcastle Girls” a timely choice.
The community events begin at 7 p.m. March 4 in the Woodbury Room, with the showing of “The Armenian Genocide,” a 2005 documentary film, followed by a discussion led by Henry Theriault, a philosophy professor at Worcester State University.
Barbara Merguerian, vice president of the Armenian Library and Museum of America, will speak about “The American Missionaries and the Armenians: Successes and Limitations of Humanitarianism” at 7 p.m. March 13 in the Woodbury Room.
Ervin Staub, psychology professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, will deliver a talk on “Overcoming Evil: Preventing Genocide and Other Group Violence and Creating Peaceful Societies” at 7 p.m. March 18 at the Woodbury Room.
Before Bohjalian’s appearance, which will be introduced by novelist Cammie McGovern, there will be a reception at 6 p.m. March 25 in the Woodbury Room, sponsored by the Friends of the Jones Libraries.
Displays at the Jones Library during March will feature information about the book and the programs.
Copies of “The Sandcastle Girls” can be borrowed from the Jones Library and branches and requested through the C/W Mars library catalog. Both Amherst Books and Food for Thought Books will have copies of the book available for purchase.