Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar comes to the blog today with a story told in dual timelines that encapsulates the imagery and lyricism of the old tales from the Arabian Nights while telling the story of a young girl returning to Syria after losing her father, and the struggles encountered with displacement, repeated attempts to assimilate as the search for home becomes just one of the many challenges.
The Map of Salt and Stars
Nour, a twelve year old girl with a synesthesia that translates words and sounds into color is dealing with many changes. Her life is changing in ways unexpected, with her father’s death her mother, a cartographer who’s hand colored maps are things of unique beauty, decides that she’ll move Nour and her sisters back to Syria, to the city of Homs. Struggling with her own grief, and worried that she’ll somehow forget her father, she spends hours recounting tales of her favorite heroine, as told to her by her father Rawiya. These stories become something of a mantra to Nour, recounting her father’s sharing of the story, and the oddly prophetic (although not clearly detailed) connections that parallel Nour’s life and story with Rawiya’s, the part historic, partly fabled heroine that Nour so loves.
The parallels are quick to reveal themselves in many ways: Rawiya’s story is from the twelfth century, when disguised as a boy she becomes an apprentice to the known cartographer Al-Idrisi, accompanying him on his journeys as he draws and experiences the world around them. Soon, we see that Nour’s journey and struggles are not dissimilar from those of Rawiya, even accounting for the often magical and mythical battles and struggles that Rawiya faces on her way to becoming both an adult and a rather fearsome person in her own right.
Throughout the story, Nour’s struggles are given an extra helping of description and emotion that is enhanced and decorated with color – color that shades every interaction and moment allowing the reader to find their own relationship to Nour’s very unique perspective on words, stories and life. From horrible moments of rootlessness to the connectedness that is found in family relationships, to the never-ending search for a home, a way to be oneself while trying to make sense of the new society, rules, customs and places that bring an understanding of loss of home, discovering just what that word means, and just how much one loses in the constant upheaval that is determined not necessarily by where you land, but what those in power where you’ve landed decide you deserve or need, or even if your existence in a place is something that you can count on for tomorrow.
Through all the issues that Nour and Rawiya encounter, it’s the beauty of the writing and the honest emotions that kept me engaged and wondering far past the issues on the page. Understanding, in some small way, the all-encompassing assault on one’s self-definition in the constant tumult that is a refugee’s life, the one constant was the need to keep moving forward and finding the strength, willingness and determination to make a place in the world where you can be. Just simply be, exist, grow and redefine your life in ways you determine. A lovely debut that was lyrical, encompassing and wholly present, one of many fictional accounts I’ve read of late that tries to tell the story of those who are refugees struggling to find a place in the world.
Title: The Map of Salt and Stars
Author: Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
Genre: Dual Timeline, Folk Tales, Literary Fiction /Family Saga, Middle East, Setting: Syria
Published by: Touchstone
Published on: 1 May, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 10 Hours (est)
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ iTunes ♦ Kobo ♦ Downpour ♦ IndieBound ♦ Google ♦Audible
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.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.