“I am a woman and a warrior. If you think I can’t be both, you’ve been lied to.”
I took my time with this review because it put me in a difficult position… The map of salt and stars is beyond anything I have read so far. The beauty of it, the delicacy of the writing, the story… they are just… I have no words.
Let’s try and review this though.
It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.
More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.
“The land where your parents were born will always be in you. Words survive. Borders are nothing to words and blood.”
Where do I even start?
- writing. Beautiful is an understatement. This book felt like an exquisite model of handmade lace: delicately put together, so graceful and elegant you are painfully aware of the effort that went into making it.
- story. While parallel stories of characters that share certain characteristics are not something out of this world, both of them were perfectly balanced, both had equal importance, they alternated at the right time so I never wanted to just skip one to get to the rest of the other one.
- plot. Reading this was a complete adventure. It felt like walking the dunes of the dessert, with windy moments, calm and chilly afternoons, with ups and down, burning lows and slides…. I was there every second of it. Engaging, page-turner and heart wrenching, it’s just what it had to be.
- characters. From the courageous and fantastic Rawiya, to wise Huda, to the relentless mother, kind uncle and ever so lovable Nour, each character has a story, a motivation, a voice and a purpose. I can’t go in more detail because I am already tearing up at the memories but trust me, it is impossible to not find at least one character to fall in love with in this book.
- character development. Do we love great characters? Yes! Do we love great characters that develop and grow throughout the book? YES!! That is what happens here. As we go on and read, we get to know our characters deeper, we get to know fears, doubts, insecurities, we find out the reasons behind their behaviors, their beliefs. We see adults who once were just wide eyed kids looking for wonder. When you close the last page, you say goodbye to friends. That is precious.
- wisdom. The wisdom in this book…. oh my. So many parts of it talk about life, prejudice, war, what losing everything means and what it doesn’t, what is identity and how do you measure it. How do you find yourself in the place you should call home? What is heritage? What is worth giving your life up for?
- quotable. I don’t have my copy with me to show you what it looks like but trust me, it has tens of tabs!
‘Don’t forget,’ he says, and Abu Sayeed looks up while he translates, holding the words back a little, ‘stories ease the pain of living, not dying. People always think dying is going to hurt. But it does not. It’s living that hurts us.”
It’s just one thing. It is so small but it did bother me a bit. In Rawiya’s story, the author seems to have forgotten that there are actually other colors on this planet and that not every single thing looks or reminds someone of a pomegranate. I can understand and see how some words can evoke something so well that we feel like welp, that’s the best words for x thing and that’s what i am going to use. However, you can only use a word so many times before it starts scratching brains. Pomegranate is the word in this book.
If I were to describe this book, it would be like a globe of lacey glass, so thin you would tremble at the thought of holding it yet so beautiful you cannot help yourself. As you get closer and reach for it, you see that inside there is a sandstorm from which you can hear screams and shouts and cries and every once in a while, a droplet of blood may be thrown into your face. It makes you stop and wonder at how something so elegant and poetic can encapsulate something so tragic and painful as war and lost lives and children dying and parents drowning… and it breaks you.
Do I recommend it? Uhm… if you’ve made it this far you should already know: yes, yes, yes…did I say yes? Well, yes! Absolutely, yes! I do! Aye!
“I know God heard them both the same at the end, that he loved them both equally even though their prayers were different.”