New book explores the Syrian Refugee crisis
We have all seen the heartbreaking photos of Syrian refugees, but few of us will ever know firsthand what it’s like to be one. THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS (Touchstone; Hardcover; $27; ISBN: 9780501169038; on sale: May 1, 2018), the debut novel by Syrian American writer Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, offers an entryway into that experience through the breathtaking story of a family forced to flee their homeland’s violence, personalizing through compelling and lyrical prose a country and a struggle that to many readers exists only in news headlines. Just as The Kite Runner illuminated modern-day Afghanistan at a time when it was shrouded by misconceptions, this gorgeous and timely story shines a light on the past and present of a country in turmoil, and the inspiring resilience of the innocent people devastated by its conflicts.
It’s the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer born in Syria, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to her home country in order to be closer to their family and their heritage. But the Syria Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and violence begin to change their quiet neighborhood. When a shell destroys their house, the family is forced to flee for their own safety. Their harrowing journey takes them across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa, exposing them to unfathomable dangers as they search for a place to take them in and a way to feel at peace again.
Adrift and afraid, Nour clings to a story her beloved Baba used to tell her. More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, daughter of a poverty-stricken widow, leaves home disguised as a boy named Rami in order to make her fortune. As an apprentice to the legendary map-maker al-Idrisi, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and northern Africa—a journey which will lead her across seas and deserts, to magnificent palaces and abandoned cities, and into battle with mythical beasts and those who would use their precious maps for their own ends. Traveling identical paths centuries apart, Nour and Rawiya share the same desires: to brave the unknown beside their companions as they are pulled by the promise of reaching home at last.
Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar is a Syrian American author. Originally from New York City, Jennifer was born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother. Her writing focuses on themes of Syrian American and Arab American identity. She is a member of the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI) and of American Mensa. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, The Saturday Evening Post, PANK Magazine, The Normal School, Mizna, and elsewhere. She is a 2017-2020 Montalvo Arts Center Lucas Artists Program Literary Arts Fellow and an alum of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) and the Tin House Writers’ Workshop. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net. For more information, please visit JenniferJoukhadar.com.
“E. M. Forster taught us that ‘fiction is truer than history because it goes beyond the evidence.’ Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar’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 way west. It’s beautiful and lovely and eye-opening.”
—Chris Bohjalian, bestselling author of The Flight Attendant and The Guest Room