Oh my gosh this book is absolutely beautiful!! Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar’s writing is lyrical, music, a canvas that she paints in such vivid colors as you read.
The Map of Salt and Stars is the story of two stories in parallel, 800 years apart. Nour, a 12 year old Syrian-American, goes back to Syria with her mother and two sisters after her father dies in 2012, and then nearly dies herself when a bomb smashes her family’s home in Homs to rubble. Rawiya leaves her home disguised as a boy, and becomes Rami, to join Al-Idrisi a famous mapmaker and learn from him. Both girls start on a life-changing and harrowing journey through the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Nour has a form of synesthesia where everything becomes a color. Voices are colors, feelings are color, objects are described in color. It leads to some vivid, amazing descriptions. So many metaphors nestled within the narrative, I found myself often stopping for a minute to close my eyes and imagine the scene in my head. After a while you start thinking in color too, and it’s a truly amazing experience. Rawiya draws on legends of the past and Middle Eastern poetry to recreate a narrative that hovers between the mythical and the realistic, perfectly complementing Nour’s own experiences.
The descriptions of Syria, as well as the other areas that the girls travel through, are so beautiful, powerful, devastating. I love how both narratives follow the same journey, drawing the maps of the area as they go, watching, waiting, and seeking. I have personally spent quite a bit of time in areas close to where their feet travel and the descriptions in the book took me right back there, so much so that I could feel the sun on my head and feel the heat of the day through the soles of my feet. I loved reading the words “Wadi Araba” because I know exactly where that is without looking at a map, and can just imagine it now and 800 years ago. The map drawing narrative is incredible, just reading about how the lines were drawn, the travels that it took over land and sea to create maps that told us how vast our world was.
So many parts of this book had me in tears, and not just the obvious parts. Being an immigrant myself with an immigrant partner from a different country than I am from, there are so many areas in the story where I found my heart breaking because I too feel that, and we too have been there. Borders seem to be so much more important to some people than they are to others. I’m not a refugee, and therefore have not suffered from a forced departure like Nour, but the soul searching, home searching, and feelings of displacement I can relate to.
I think that Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar does an amazing job depicting the importance of understanding how one becomes a refugee, and of opening our eyes to why someone would leave their home country with only the clothes they are wearing, through such a beautiful and heartbreaking story. I seriously cannot recommend this book enough.
I see fireworks: red, blue, purple, green, with a shower of golden stars. The Map of Salt and Stars is amazing. Please read this book.
The Map of Salt and Stars will be published on May 1st by Touchstone. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the advance copy. I will be buying this beautiful book in hardcover because I want to hold it in my hands and read it again and again. There are so many areas that I wanted to highlight and quote.