I was library-shopping after a LONG week at school, when I stumbled upon Hala Alyan’s novel Salt Houses. I read the blurb and was instantly intrigued. I’ve been trying to read more works about Muslims from a variety of ethnic and national backgrounds, and reading about Palestine presented a double interest to me. This is a well-written and engaging novel, with a historical scope that reminds me a little of Homegoing.
On her wedding weekend, Alia’s mother reads her fortune and predicts a life of strife and upheaval. The novel begins in the 1960s and unfolds over the next several decades, including the Six Days’ War and post-9/11 anxieties. It takes place in Palestine, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Paris, and Boston. It spans four generations: Salma the matriarch, Alia, her children, and their children. Each narrator has a different story to tell and a different take on being Palestinian without being from Palestine. The novel shows how global culture unfolds, particularly in times of conflict or crisis, and it asks how we develop national pride if we become refugees. Each of the characters also has their own take on what it means to be Middle Eastern and Muslim, which also adds a nuanced component to the novel.
The characters are vivid, and the writing is simply gorgeous. I found the characters to be interesting and relatable, though still very human. This was a solid 4.5 star book for me (with maybe a quibble or two in pacing), and I would be very interested to read more of Alyan’s work. I am definitely including this in a teaching rotation.
Cross-posted to my blog.