The Map of Salt and Starsby Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar Published 1 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
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.
For the first time in years, I think of something Mama told me when I was little: that when you make a map, you don’t just paint the world the way it is. You paint your own.Joukhadar alternates between the legendary tale of a girl battling mythological beasts across windswept dunes on her quest to “map the lands of Anatolia, Bilad Ash-Sham, and the eastern Maghreb” and the story of a young Syrian refugee who makes a harrowing journey, alongside her family, in search of a new place to call home. Though their stories take place 800 years apart, their emotional trials and geographical triumphs overlap, albeit in unsurprising ways.
The mythological elements of The Map of Salt and Stars take inspiration from The Thousand and One Nights and are further enhanced by Joukhadar’s inclusion of the real-life scholar and mapmaker, Muhammad Al-Idrisi. The most glorious moments emerge from Nour, the Syrian refugee who experiences the world in colors: the yellow and black bursts of oil and fat sizzling in a pan, the purple taste of tree roots and loam, the ultramarine of flesh chilled to the bone.
There’s much to love here, but satisfaction would have been gleaned from a more meaningful connection between the two alternating stories. And while Joukhadar succeeds in conveying the plight of Syrian refugees, Nour is easily forgotten. Perhaps she’s difficult to identify with because of her synesthesia, or maybe it’s that her story starts in New York (her birthplace) then sees her moving to Syria. Since Nour spends only a short time in Syria before leaving, she lacks a deep connection to the place she’s forced to flee, thereby diminishing the sense of loss.
With blooms of dazzling prose and its entertaining blend of worlds real and imagined, The Map of Salt and Stars proves a moderately enjoyable debut from a promising new talent.
“Stones don’t have to be whole to be lovely,” he says. “Even cracked ones can be polished and set. Small diamonds, if they are clear and well cut, can be more valuable than big ones with impurities. Listen,” he says. “Sometimes the smallest stars shine brightest, no?”
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.
“E. M. Forster taught us that ‘fiction is truer than history than history because it goes beyond the evidence.’ Jennifer Zeynab Maccani’s magic first novel is a testimony to that maxim. We’ve all been aware of the plight of Syrian refugees, but in this richly imaginative story we see one small family – both haunted by history and saved by myth – work their west. It’s beautiful and lovely and eye-opening.”
It would be impossible to overstate how proud we are to be publishing this gorgeous and important novel. Nour's voice will capture your heart and linger in your mind long after you read the final page. Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar is not only immensely talented, but has a story that needs to be told.