Salt Houses

Current stop: Kuwait

Alyan’s debut novel explores a Palestinian family caught between present and past, between displacement and home.–halaalyan.com

Home can be a tricky thing to place. Is it where you were born? Where you grew up? Where you currently live? Or is it more difficult to pin down?

As the above quote suggests, this novel could count for Palestine in my trip around the world through books. I went back and forth trying to decide where to “place” this novel on my list. I ended up landing on Kuwait solely because of the purpose of my quest–a way to travel metaphorically around the world. The majority of the action in Alyan’s novel takes place in Kuwait City, although there are chapters in Paris, Amman, and Beruit. Where was I for the majority of this novel? In Kuwait City. Therefore I ultimately counted this book for Kuwait. 

I had added this book to my to-read section on Goodreads last year, right around the time it came out. When searching for books to read for my challenge this year, I realized this would be a great fit. It’s still early in my challenge, but I have already mapped out potential books to read. In doing that, I realized I had a lot of memoirs as well of a lack of contemporary novels. I wanted to keep my list varied, so I decided this would be an ideal book to read for my challenge.

From the very first sentence I was drawn to Salt Houses, but I knew it was going to be a heavier read, both in content and style, than the last few books I’ve read this year. 

This is generational tale, following a family beginning in 1963 and ending in present day. Each chapter jumps ahead a few years and is told from the perspective of a different family member. Additionally, characters reflect on events that occurred years ago, altering the timeline.

Perhaps one of the most impressive feats of this novel is how the characters felt truly related. As reader you will come to know a variety of characters–mothers, brothers, cousins, nieces, etc. But Alyan does not tell their stories in small vignettes, rather each story flows seamlessly into the next, so that over time I came to know the whole family, and showcasing similarities between one generation to the next.

I certainly learned a lot while reading this novel– about wars I knew almost nothing about, and about myself.  I was reminded of my privilege in having grown up in a country that has not had war domestically in my life time. 

Next stop: Syria

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