From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut novel about a Palestinian family caught between present and past, between displacement and home.
On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s future in a cup of coffee dregs. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel, and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967. Salma is forced to leave her home in Nablus; Alia’s brother gets pulled into a politically militarized world he can’t escape; and Alia and her gentle-spirited husband move to Kuwait City, where they reluctantly build a life with their three children.
When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990, Alia and her family once again lose their home, their land, and their story as they know it, scattering to Beirut, Paris, Boston, and beyond. Soon Alia’s children begin families of their own, once again navigating the burdens (and blessings) of assimilation in foreign cities.
“Atia remains too frightened to say anything that might unnerve him. What she knows about her husband, what she thought she knew about the man, has scattered like dandelion seeds beneath a child’s breath since he returned from the war.” Hala Alyan, Salt Houses
From the breathtaking book cover to the magnificent writing, Salt Houses is an extraordinary novel and worthy of praise. Alyan is a gifted writer who brings us a realistic story of an upper-class Palestinian family’s bond and survival through war and displacement. Although I have never been to Nablus, Kuwait or Beirut, through Alyan’s impressive descriptions, I felt I had. I was able to feel the joys and sorrows of Salma, Alia, Atef, and the rest of the Yacoub family. I also learned some history of Palestinian Arabs, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the Six-day War of 1967. I honestly cannot imagine having to abandon my home, possessions, and loved ones. Or if I had to move from country to country multiple times because of war, or fear of war. Without a doubt, displacement immobilizes countries involved in a civil conflict, and unfortunately, its citizens are the ones who suffer the most. Being displaced impacts an individual’s life emotionally and physically. Salt Houses gives readers a candid look at the Yacoubs’ despair and hope for a better life throughout four generations. As a reader, you also witness how the family tries to remain connected, and not lose their cultural origins; while trying to assimilate to all of the different countries. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to gain a better understanding of the Palestinian diaspora.
Here’s a short interview with the author featured on NPR