Chris BohjalianWednesday, March 13, 2019
Chris Bohjalian (Armenian: Քրիս Պոհճալեան), is an American novelist and the author of 20 novels, including such bestsellers as Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls and The Guest Room. His work has been published in over 30 languages and three times has been adapted into films.
Bohjalian followed Midwives with the 1999 novel The Law of Similars, about a widower attorney suffering from nameless anxieties who starts dating a woman who practices alternative medicine. The novel was inspired by Bohjalian's real-life visit to a homeopath in an attempt to cure frequent colds he was catching from his daughter's day care center. Bohjalian said of the visit, "I don't think I imagined there was a novel in homeopathy, however, until I met the homeopath and she explained to me the protocols of healing. There was a poetry to the language that a patient doesn't hear when visiting a conventional doctor." The protagonist, a father, is based in part on Bohjalian himself, and his four-year-old daughter is based largely on Bohjalian's daughter, who was three when he was writing the book. Liz Rosenberg of The New York Times said in her review, "Few writers can manipulate a plot with Bohjalian's grace and power." But she felt that the novel shared too many similarities with Midwives; Rosenberg said, "Unlike its predecessor, it fails to take advantage of Bohjalian's great gift for creating thoughtful fiction featuring characters in whom the reader sustains a lively interest." Megan Harlan of The Boston Phoenix described it as "formulaic fiction" and said Bohjalian focused too much on creating a complex plot and not enough of complex characterizations. The Law of Similars, like Midwives, made the New York Times bestsellers list.
He won the New England Book Award in 2002.
The Double Bind was a Barnes & Noble Recommends Selection in 2007 and debuted at #3 on the "New York Times" bestseller list.
In 2008, Bohjalian released Skeletons at the Feast, a love story set in the last six months of World War II in Poland and Germany. The novel was inspired by an unpublished diary written by German citizen Eva Henatsch from 1920 to 1945. The diary was given to Bohjalian in 1998 by Henatsch's grandson Gerd Krahn, a friend of Bohjalian, who had a daughter in the same kindergarten class as Bohjalian's daughter. Bohjalian was particularly fascinated by Henatsch's account of her family's trek west ahead of the Soviet Army, but he was not inspired to write a novel from it until 2006, when he read Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, Max Hastings' history of the final years of World War II. Bohjalian was struck not only by how often Henatsch's story mirrored real-life experiences, but also the common "moments of idiosyncratic human connection" found in both. Skeletons at the Feast was considered a departure for Bohjalian because it was not only set outside of Vermont, but set in a particular historical moment. The novel was an enormous commercial and critical success: It was Bohjalian's fifth New York Times bestseller and was selected a "Best Book of the Year" by the "Washington Post" and the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch." It was also an NBC Today Show "Top Ten" summer pick in 2008.
His 2010 novel, Secrets of Eden, was also a critical success, receiving starred reviews from three of the four trade journals (Booklist, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly), as well as many newspapers and magazines. It debuted at # 6 on the New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. It premiered as a Lifetime Television movie on February 4, 2012, starring John Stamos, Dorsa Giyahi and Anna Gunn. This was the third time one of Bohjalian's novels was adapted for a movie, following Past the Bleachers in 1995 and Midwives in 2001.
His thirteenth novel, The Night Strangers, was published in 2011. It's a ghost story and received excellent critical reviews and drew comparisons to the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Atwood, Alice Sebold, Stephen King, and Ira Levin. But reader response was mixed, with some readers frustrated with the ending and Bohjalian's use of the second person for parts of the narration. The book won the New England Society Book Award for fiction in April 2012.
His The Sandcastle Girls (2012) is about the Armenian Genocide and its century-long denial by Turkey. The novel includes two stories in one: the story of Elizabeth Endicott and Armen Petrosian, lovers who meet in Syria during the genocide; and the story of Laura Petrosian, their granddaughter, who after a century tries to understand why they were so silent about their youth, while her suburban existence is quite different from the violent setting in which her grandparents fell in love. According to USA Today, Bohjalian makes "a near-century-old event come to life in a way that will make readers gasp with shock that such a terrible event — Turkey's determination to kill all the Armenians in their country — is such a small part of our knowledge of world history". Oprah Winfrey chose it as a Book of the Week: "This rendering of one of history's greatest (and least known) tragedies is a nuanced, sophisticated portrayal of what it means not only to endure but also to insist on hope".
Since then he was written such other New York Times bestsellers as The Light in the Ruins; Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; The Guest Room; The Sleepwalker; and the forthcoming, The Flight Attendant.
His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Bookpage, and Salon.
On September 1, 2017, Bohjalian spoke a Vardanants Day Armenian Lecture at the Library of Congress.
Bohjalian novels often focus on a specific issue, such as homelessness, animal rights and environmentalism, and tend to be character-driven, revolving around complex and flawed protagonists and secondary characters. Bohjalian uses characteristics from his real life in his writings; in particular, many of his novels take place in fictional Vermont towns, and the names of real New Hampshire towns are often used throughout his stories. Bohjalian said, "Writers can talk with agonizing hubris about finding their voices, but for me, it was in Vermont that I discovered issues, things that matter to me." His novels also tend to focus on ordinary people facing extraordinarily difficult situations resulting from unforeseen circumstances, often triggered by other parties.