Sometimes you walk past the ‘new books’ section at the library and pick up a book because the cover is pretty. And then you start reading the book and have to take frequent breaks because the book is so powerful and emotional. And then after you’re finished reading it you have to take a break and not read anything else for a while. This is what happened when I read Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar’s “The Map of Salt and Stars.”
“The Map of Salt and Stars” is an interwoven story: that of the present day Nour and her family, and that of a 13th century apprentice mapmaker who travels the same area Nour does in order to make an accurate map as part of the first atlas of the entire world. While Rawiya faces down military forces of fighting kingdoms and is stalked by an immense Roc, it is Nour that faces more realistically deadly threats as her family attempts to flee Syria.
They’d already fled New York, after their dad died of cancer. Nour’s mother took her and her two older sisters back to Syria. Well, for her mom and sisters it was “back.” Nour was born in the USA and had never been to Syria before their return. She has difficulty adjusting, especially as she speaks very little Arabic. As the war starts, they become more and more nervous. And then their house is shelled and they’re suddenly homeless and have nowhere to go. They have no options but to flee with all the other refugees. But borders are closing and they have to move fast.
“The Map of Salt and Stars,” like “The Hate You Give,” should be required reading in high schools… and for adults. It’s an emotional, well written book that humanizes refugees in a way that needs to be done, sadly.It’s an eloquently, powerfully, written book about a 12 year old with synesthesia whose world comes crashing down not once, but twice. I highly recommend it.
Content Note: in addition to being a book about people fleeing a war zone, with the violence and death that involves, there’s also sexual assault