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The Thirty Names of Night Summary and Reviews

The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

The Thirty Names of Night

by Zeyn Joukhadar

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  • Published:
  • Nov 2020
    304 pages
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About this book

Book Summary

The author of the "vivid and urgent…important and timely" (The New York Times Book Review) debut The Map of Salt and Stars returns with this remarkably moving and lyrical novel following three generations of Syrian Americans who are linked by a mysterious species of bird and the truths they carry close to their hearts.

Five years after a suspicious fire killed his ornithologist mother, a closeted Syrian American trans boy sheds his birth name and searches for a new one. He has been unable to paint since his mother's ghost has begun to visit him each evening. As his grandmother's sole caretaker, he spends his days cooped up in their apartment, avoiding his neighborhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend (who also happens to be his longtime crush). The only time he feels truly free is when he slips out at night to paint murals on buildings in the once-thriving Manhattan neighborhood known as Little Syria.

One night, he enters the abandoned community house and finds the tattered journal of a Syrian American artist named Laila Z, who dedicated her career to painting the birds of North America. She famously and mysteriously disappeared more than sixty years before, but her journal contains proof that both his mother and Laila Z encountered the same rare bird before their deaths. In fact, Laila Z's past is intimately tied to his mother's—and his grandmother's—in ways he never could have expected. Even more surprising, Laila Z's story reveals the histories of queer and transgender people within his own community that he never knew. Realizing that he isn't and has never been alone, he has the courage to officially claim a new name: Nadir, an Arabic name meaning rare.

As unprecedented numbers of birds are mysteriously drawn to the New York City skies, Nadir enlists the help of his family and friends to unravel what happened to Laila Z and the rare bird his mother died trying to save. Following his mother's ghost, he uncovers the silences kept in the name of survival by his own community, his own family, and within himself, and discovers the family that was there all along.

Featuring Zeyn Joukhadar's signature "magical and heart-wrenching" (The Christian Science Monitor) storytelling, The Thirty Names of Night is a timely exploration of how we all search for and ultimately embrace who we are.

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Media Reviews

"The author creates a world for his characters in which readers who are perhaps unfamiliar with the communities being represented can find their way around, but he does not feel compelled to translate and explain. And Joukhadar's prose style—folkloric, lyrical, and emotionally intense—creates its own atmosphere. Gorgeous and alive." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Joukhadar conveys the protagonist's gender confusion with such a sense of turmoil and angst that the reader can also become a bit confused, but overall this is a brilliant novel from the author of the celebrated The Map of Salt and Stars." - Library Journal (starred review)

"Quietly lyrical and richly imaginative, Joukhadar's tale shows how Laila and Nadir live and love and work past the shame in their lives through their art. This is a stirring portrait of an artist as a young man." - Publishers Weekly

"Zeyn Joukhadar's new book is a vivid exploration of loss, art, queer and trans communities, and the persistence of history. Often tender, always engrossing, The Thirty Names of Night is a feat." - R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries

"Evocative and beautifully written, reading this is like opening a treasure trove of memories and images that shimmer both with light and the darkness of our times. It addresses important issues of migration, belonging, sexuality and love." - Christy Lefteri, author of The Beekeeper of Aleppo

"Long after the story ended, I remain haunted by Zeyn Joukhadar's novel, The Thirty Names of Night: part ghost story, part history, part art, all magic. Using gorgeous prose, Joukhadar deftly takes the reader on a journey of migration and belonging, explores the price of silence and of secrets, and tells an exquisite tale of family and love." - Devi S. Laskar, author of The Atlas of Reds and Blues

This information about The Thirty Names of Night was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Mary O. (Siasconset, MA)

This is a beautifully written haunting story of love, loss and family. Rarely do you read a book that continues to evoke such strong emotions long after you finish it and put it down. A book well worth reading!

Mary B

The Thirty Names of Night
I received a free e-edition through Bookbrowse and NetGalley. I very much enjoyed this book. It was not a quick or easy read, but very good. Going back and forth between time frames meant having to pay close attention to each segment. The writing itself was wonderful, thought provoking. Very poetic and imaginative, revolving around ornithology across the generations and how it tied them together. Intermingled within the story was fantasy and magic. The main characters were Syrian immigrants trying to find their place in the world. For the main character and several others also being in the LGBT community.

Rebecca G. (Havertown, PA)

For the love of birds
There is so much to love about this book. It's actually taken a couple of weeks to write a review because I wasn't sure how to put my emotions into words. It's the story of an unnamed young woman who identifies as a boy. She's struggled all her life with a body she despises and is too strangled by her culture to face who she is, especially to the people in her life. She's also struggling with the death of her mother, a death she feels partly responsible for. Her mother was an ornithologist and her love of birds sustains the young woman, an artist confined to expressing herself through street art. The young woman, who eventually takes the name of Nadir when he eventually accepts himself, finds a diary, one that describes a rare Ibis. Nadir recognizes the bird as an Ibis his mother claims to have seen and he sets out to find the author of the diary and the rare birds. Along the way he discovers that birds of various kinds are swarming the city and that the love of birds that he shared with his mother is leading him on his quest to find the truth. He also discovers the warmth, kindness and acceptance of the transgender and homosexual community. While Nadir discovers the truth of the diary, its part in his and his family's life and ultimately love it's an end that tugs at the heart. I loved this book

Karen S. (Allston, MA)

This might be several different novels
Joukhadar creates beautiful and haunting scenes throughout this tale of three generations of Syrian-Americans. Blending immigration, ornithology and sexual identity is an unusual mix, and it mostly worked. The overall storytelling was where the book lost me.
I wanted to like this book more, but it fell short for me. There is a lot going on and the pace did not carry me along, keeping me engaged. The build-up to the concluding events dragged too much for me, without the enjoyment of heightening anticipation. The author creates a world for the stories main characters across the generations, and keeps within that rather narrow world. It seems quite narrow even for an immigrant community story, and I was not sure that this would be that satisfying even for Syrian-Americans eager to read stories related to the Syrian experience in New York and the upper Midwest. Perhaps the story of accepting one's own sexual identity—and supporting others in their own quest- will be the story that appeals to more readers.

Dawn S. (Fergus Falls, MN)

Thirty Names of Night
I had a hard time getting into this book, and it was one of those that I had to set aside to maybe pick up again another day. It could be that it's just not my genre preference, but it just didn't hold my attention.

Julia E. (Atlanta, GA)

Parts Greater Than Its Sum
Covering three generations of a Syrian-American family, this exquisitely written novel offers a welcome voice to the American immigration experience. There are many brilliantly rendered scenes for the reader to savor. One feels, however, that the author is more of a poet than a novelist: one comes away with are memories of vivid descriptions rather than the solid satisfaction of a coherent tale, clearly told.. This work will likely be enjoyed by readers who closely identify with some of its important themes; others may wish the author's book editor had tickled out a more widely relatable story.

...1 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Zeyn Joukhadar Author Biography

Photo: Neha Gautam

Zeyn Joukhadar is the author of The Map of Salt and Stars and The Thirty Names of Night. He is a member of the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI) and of American Mensa. Joukhadar's writing has appeared in Salon, the Paris Review, the Kenyon Review, and elsewhere and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net. The Map of Salt and Stars was a 2018 Middle East Book Award winner in Youth Literature and a 2018 Goodreads Choice Award Finalist in Historical Fiction and was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize. He has been an artist in residence at the Montalvo Arts Center, the Fes Medina Project, Beit al-Atlas, and the Arab American National Museum.

Author Interview
Link to Zeyn Joukhadar's Website

Name Pronunciation
Zeyn Joukhadar: ZAYN JHOOK-hadar

Other books by Zeyn Joukhadar at BookBrowse
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