The Map of Salt and Starsby Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar Published 01 May 2018
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This rich, moving, and lyrical debut novel is to Syria what The Kite Runner was to Afghanistan; the story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker—places today’s headlines in the sweep of history, where the pain of exile and the triumph of courage echo again and again.
It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.
More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.
A deep immersion into the richly varied cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, The Map of Salt and Stars follows the journeys of Nour and Rawiya as they travel along identical paths across the region eight hundred years apart, braving the unknown beside their companions as they are pulled by the promise of reaching home at last.
"The Map of Salt and Stars" Reviews
Good lord—this is an incredible novel. ARC reviewed for Bookshop Santa Cruz’s spring/summer newsletter.
This deeply moving and gorgeously written novel follows the intertwining stories of two young women: in 2011, Nour is a Syrian-American girl whose family becomes refugees as they escape the Syrian Civil War, while 800 years earlier, Rawiya leaves her home in Cueta in search of adventure and disguises herself as a boy to apprentice with the world’s best mapmaker. On the way, the girls find themselves walking similar paths through the Middle East and across North Africa as their resilience and resolve are tested on their search for family and home.
Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar is a fabulously talented writer, and THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS is a stunning debut. If you’re looking for a beautifully and lyrically written literary fiction novel, keep an eye out for this when it’s released in May.
This is such a beautifully written book. Telling two stories side by side throughout the book, one of three girls, with a focus on Nour who have left the US for Syria and the story of Rawiya who leaves home to discover the world and become a cartographer, these stories just bloom as this book goes on.
The story is beautifully written, descriptive and elegant. The Map Of Salt And Stars is really such a fantastic read and once you have started it is impossible to stop but also once finished really hard to stop thinking about - the plight Nour’s family goes through in this book grips your compassion and if it doesn’t make you want to do something, I don’t know what will.
The characters feel so relateable, though their situation is so different, characters such as Zahra and Nour remind me of me and my sister, we are so very different and I think that adds to the story and it makes you connect to it, empathising with the characters on another level.
A stunning book, you will find it difficult to forget it.
(I received an ARC from NetGalley for a honest review).
Beautifully written with lush detail. A wonderfully woven tale of two women seeking home in their own ways. Learning that home is much more than a country or even a city on a map. They each discover the maps within through their courageous and very daunting journeys across the landscapes of the Middle East. Each creating their own map filled with stories, people and experiences. Drawing both on the real struggles of refugees of today and the intrepid adventurers of the past. These stories will give you have a deeper understanding and appreciation that we are all maps and stories. It will also show you what home is and what home means.
I thought this book was a gem. A heartbreaking one but a gem nonetheless. Little sweet Nour has her life ripped apart, not once with the death of her beloved Baba, but twice with the deteriorating state of politics causing war in Syria.
I think (or I would like to think) that we are all somewhat familiar with the situation in Syria; the news stories about sunken boats carrying innocent men, women and children across to safer lands, the current bombings in Ghouta resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians.
However, to read the news and to really, really reflect on what is happening are two entirely different things. Here, we see the perspective of a child. A child who has no idea why her life is being ripped apart, a child who just wants to sit in her olive grove and tell stories to her Baba.
The story reminded me a lot of a non-fiction book I read as a child, Zlata's Diary, about a young girl in the Bosnian war. It's so sad to think that although Nour's story may be fiction right now, there are thousands of non-fiction versions out there from children who have lived what we see Nour living.
The vividness and creativity which this book holds its roots in are striking. The colours, the descriptions of the lands, the smells. Nour has synesthesia which really adds an important layer to the book and makes it come alive.
Something that really struck a chord with me in this book was the fear of sexual violence towards women. Nour doesn't really understand why her mama decides it is best for her to keep her hair short, however, when Huda is attacked, assaulted and almost raped, it seems Nour begins to understand. Whether or not she 100% understands, that same fear and the same feelings she had in that alleyway with Huda come swarming back when the smuggler stand over her and Zahara. These may have been close calls in the book but they reflect the real world where thousands of women are the subject of sexual violence in war-torn countries.
I have to admit I wasn't overly keen on the opposing tale of Rawiya, however, I can't deny that it only elevated Nour's story; I just didn't find it as gripping.
I'll be taking the author's advice and reading more materials on the situation in Syria by Syrian writers.
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon&Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this book.
Received a free copy for honest review.
This is a wonderful, imaginative novel that I highly recommend. The author weaves the lives of two young Syrian girl's life stories together for an unforgettable read. In one a modern Syrian family tries to escape the violence of Syria as told by a 12 year old girl. The second girls story begins in the 12 century where she leaves home and becomes a cartographers apprentice. This is a complex but easy to read story about history and the crises of refugees today. Highly recommend this book.
Two alternating stories tell the harrowing tale of a trio of sisters forced to flee with their family after their Syrian town is bombed. Twelve-year-old Nour, still mourning the recent loss of her father, makes it a point to tell one of his stories as she travels so that she can still feel close to him, so we get the story of Rawiya, a girl 800 years earlier who disguises herself as a boy to apprentice to a map-maker. In these two stories, we follow Nour and Rawiya though their travels in the middle east, forging their own ways and making do when the map seems blank and there's no one to guide them forward.
I found the modern story of Nour much more compelling than the storytelling bits about Rawiya and I ended up scanning the storytelling parts quite a bit. I found it a little jarring moving back and forth so often and it kept me from getting totally swept up in Nour's story. Still, this is a moving look at the war in Syria and the plight of refugees who have no choice but to move forward whether or not they have a map or anywhere to go.