A deeply moving look inside the Palestinian diaspora.

SALT HOUSES

“Nostalgia is an affliction” a character states in Palestinian-American poet Alyan’s impressive first novel, which tracks the dispersal of four generations of a Palestinian family.

As matriarch Salma reads the future in a cup of coffee the night before her daughter Alia’s wedding in 1963, the Yacoub family has already been uprooted for 15 years. In the decades to come the Yacoubs’ distinctly personal experiences will mirror the experiences of immigrants and refugees around the world and the Palestinians’ dislocation in particular. Salma feels lucky; unlike others moved into resettlement camps when Israelis forced them from Jaffa, her husband’s wealth afforded them a house in Nablus. But transience has become the Yacoubs’ way of life. Alia’s older, more traditional sister, Widad, has already moved to Kuwait in an arranged marriage. When the Six-Day War breaks out in 1967, Alia happens to be visiting Widad in Kuwait City while her husband, Atef, and beloved brother, Mustafa, close friends and anti-occupation activists, remain trapped in Palestine. Only Atef makes it to Kuwait, with a secret guilt that will haunt him for years. Unlike her sister, the independent-minded Alia has married Atef, a professor, for love. Their difficult marriage becomes one of the novel’s most compelling elements as the couple creates a life in Kuwait with their three children—Riham, Karam, and Souad—until the 1990 Iraq-Kuwait war forces them to flee to Amman. Karam is sent to college in Boston and becomes an assimilated American despite summers with his kids in an inherited apartment in Beirut. Artsy Souad also ends up in Boston but never feels at home in America. After a divorce, she moves to Beirut, where she re-creates herself. While more traditionally religious than her relatively cosmopolitan siblings, Riham is as disturbed as any Western reader when her adolescent stepson flirts with political extremism. In the next generation, Souad’s daughter finds her own sense of displacement painful yet freeing. It’s not always easy to follow Alyan’s complex geographic and emotional mapping, but this journey is well worth taking.

A deeply moving look inside the Palestinian diaspora.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-91258-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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