The Map of Salt and Starsby Published 01 May 2018
|The Map of Salt and Stars.pdf|
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
THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS is a magnificent blend of fiction and fable. I won't lie; it's a challenging read from an emotional standpoint. I had to put it down after certain chapters because I was too upset to continue. I feel like my heart was cracked open and then patched together in the end. Five stars all the way.
Big thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC!
The narrator’s synesthesia suffuses the narrative with a harlequin array of colours; from the purple-hued breath of individuals she comes across to the glittering reflections of sunlight on cerulean sea, ‘The Map of Salt and Stars’ is a novel whose colouration reflects the world-view of Nour, her sense of despondence over the death of her father, her sense of isolation following her family’s re-migration to Syria and the chaos which ensues but, most importantly, her sense of humanity based on the people she meets and loves, from her mother and sister to Abu Sayeed, ‘The Map of Salt and Stars’ is a testament to human fortitude in times of turmoil, simple acts of kindness which redeem the torrents of injustice and cruelty which Nour experiences, the sense of wonder at the beauty of the world, from the stars in the desert sky to the cartography books in the palace of King Roger-‘The Map of Salt and Stars’ is a celebration of human perseverance, just like the diamond which Abu Sayeed bequeaths Nour which she at first views as being a nondescript rock.
The story follows the journey of Nour and her family as they return to Syria after living in New York. The timing of their return is, however, unpropitious as they are caught up the Syrian Civil War and what follows is a nightmare journey through the Middle-East and North Africa as the family struggle to find safety. Running parallel to this-often geographically, but always spiritually and thematically, is the story of the young girl Rawiya, who embarks on a quest to explore the world. Both Nour and Rawiya resemble one another; both are disguised as-and mistaken for-boys, both have a drive and determination and sense of bravery which they were hitherto unaware of and both of their lives are, despite the tragedies they experience, enriched by their adventures. The thing which, however, gives meaning to their lives and journeys is the people they meet; as Nour’s mother tells her, the destination is irrelevant, what matters in life is the impact you have on the people you meet and the need to live by your own sense of truth.
Joukhadar’s poetic style resonates with the deeply humanistic theme of the book, with the narrator’s synesthesia imbuing the atmosphere with a sense of beauty and uniqueness;
“From my chair, I can just see out the kitchen window between the curtains. An oily mist hangs over the alley, and I can’t tell if it’s twilight or dust. It’s gotten too dark to tell colour. I breathe in through my nose again, desperately wishing for the scene of rain.”
Sounds vibrate vicariously in the mind of the narrator and are translated into colours of limitless hues, often colours coalesce, whether it be the green-blue crepuscular sky or the yellow-hued desert. More than this, however, the central theme of the book is Joukhadar’s humanistic message about those seeking political asylum after the horrors they experience; in an age where those desperate enough to make this journey are often villified, ‘The Map of Salt and Stars’ demonstrates that they are just people seeking to re-gain a sense of humanity and security where circumstances out of their control have led to their lives being put at risk. Perhaps this should be an obvious message, but it is one which is all too often missed.
3.5 heartwarming stars
Full Disclosure, I chose this book based on its stunning cover, its eye-catching title, and the fact that the synopsis drops in the comparison to The Kite Runner . Set against the backdrop of the unrest in Syria and coupled with a 12th century romance adventure tale, The Map of Salt and Stars certainly sheds light on one family's story as they travel from America after their father's death to Syria, only to find themselves refugees fleeing across Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Morocco.
I appreciated the author's source list and information at the back of the book, the writing and characters were absolutely beautiful BUT I didn't find the "story" within the story that interesting. Nour and her family were much more captivating. As well, my mind began to wander around the 60% mark(this really isn't the author's fault, I am having one of those chaotic weeks at work and I think my mind is on other things), I may just re-read this again at some point to compare it to my first impressions.
Thanks to NetGalley for an advanced ebook in exchange for an honest review.
This is such a lovely, important book.
And it’s quite different from my usual reads. It’s not YA, for example (although I can confidently say that there are many aspects that could appeal to a YA audience, so kudos on the crossover appeal), and feels like a memoir even though it isn’t one.
THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS is a novel that alternated between events in 2011 Syria, told through 11/12 year old Nour, and historical, fantastical events narrated by the ancient-monster-fighting mapmaker apprentice Rawaiya, who’s 16 at the start of the novel.
(Hence, the YA appeal).
One of this book’s greatest strengths, by far, is the writing. It’s lovely and lyrical and musical and descriptive and straddles the line between purple prose and not (which is the perfect position, if you ask me). Each part even begins with a county-shaped poem, keeping up with the recurrent “map” theme that this novel centers around.
Heads up: this is a heavy book. it’s not a novel to read lightly or even quickly, and it takes time to get through. The writing is, again, heavy and full of feeing. This isn’t a bad thing, by any means, just a heads up. You’ll want to take your time with this one.
The characters are a delightful cast. They are fully fleshed out and REAL, and you cannot help but feel for their story, and feel (and fear) deeply. They go through hell and back, and not one of them emerges unscathed.
The reading experience was a stressful one, if only because you’re terrified for everyone’s safety.
Nour is a perfect lead. Her voice feels authentic and genuine and the fact that this is headed by a young girl that isn’t even a teenager yet adds a goosebump-raising element to the events that unfold, if only because the harrowing journey that Nour undergoes should never be experienced by one so young; but unfortunately, her story is a real and common one.
My one criticism, though, is this: The sheer length of the novel and the slightly-not realistic solution at the end. (Okay, so two criticisms).
But all in all? A superbly-written and moving novel that explores the hellish conditions that Syrian refugees experience at the hands of a cruel, unpredictable fate.
Thanks to the author for the ARC!
There have been quite a few novels written over the last several years about the refugee experience, mostly how they are trying to manage their new lives in the US. This book was somewhat different with a family moving back to Syria in 2011 after the father dies. This proved to be the worst possible time with a civil war looming and it tells of their harrowing and heartbreaking struggle to find safety. We follow 12 year old Nour and her mother and sisters from New York to Syria to Jordan to Libya to Morocco. This is yet another story with dual times alternating Nour’s present day journey with another young girl, Rawiya, 800 years earlier. The second narrative is a story within the story and it represents the beautiful bond that Nour had with her father who told her stories ever night. As with many books with dual story lines, I usually am drawn to one more than the other. I was much more interested in knowing what would happen to Nour and her family than in Rawiya’s adventures. Maybe because of the fantasy elements of the latter story. I was, however, taken with the connections between the stories - the maps, the places, that home is not necessarily defined by a place but by where your family is.
There are vivid descriptions of places, things, feelings accentuated by a form of synesthesia that causes Nour to experience these thing by colors. The author provides a view a people, their culture by providing an intimate look at this fictional family. They put more than a face on the images that we see on tv of the plight of Syrian refugees. I don’t pretend to understand what it’s all about or to know what we should do about, but I know that we can’t ignore it . I couldn’t quite give this 5 stars because I wasn’t sure how realistic the ending was. Still, highly recommended.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Touchstone/Simon & Schuster through Edelweiss.