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Salt Houses


From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut novel about a Palestinian family...
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Discuss Salt Houses by Hala Alyan:
How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

Created: 05/25/18

Replies: 23

Posted May. 25, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 1626

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How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

As readers, we follow the family through several major real-world events: the Six-Day War, Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, the 9/11 attacks. How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?


Posted Jun. 03, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
paulagb

Join Date: 08/16/17

Posts: 40

RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

The turmoil of sudden and undesired change as extensive and basic to life was well explored. The affluence of the family made it possible for the ripping change easier perhaps, but still emotionally devastating. I was surprised a bit that the financial difficulties that must have been extensive were less important for these families than I expected. This allowed the author to focus on emotions, but may not represent the extent of difficulties many of the displaced suffered.


Posted Jun. 04, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
sandeo

Join Date: 04/17/11

Posts: 21

RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

I believe that viewing historical events through the eyes of the participants. In Salt Houses we look through the eyes of a rich family. The stereotype of the poor victim is ignored. Instead We are given a point of view not covered by television. This is is a refreshing though complicated prism.


Posted Jun. 04, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
acstrine

Join Date: 02/06/17

Posts: 59

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

Very rarely do we hear any point of view from a Palestinian. When the news covers events happening in Palestine/Israel today, typically only Hamas is mentioned, not the many, many people who do not identify with that group and are attacked and then forced to relocate over and over. While the family had the finances and support to facilitate their moves each time, the fact that they were being pushed out again was not lost. The actual move may have been easier, but the feelings were just as heartbreaking as those felt by the people let behind. And money did not prevent the family from being accused of horrible things or having insults hurled at them in Lebanon or the United States. I am grateful a book was written from this perspective.


Posted Jun. 04, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
janeh

Join Date: 06/15/11

Posts: 165

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

It's always good to "walk a mile in their shoes" before deciding how to view other people and their actions.
Literature is a wonderful medium to allow us to do that.


Posted Jun. 04, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
naomib

Join Date: 05/02/12

Posts: 9

RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

My perspective of these events is quite complicated, and I can't say this book changed much. I lived in Israel for a year following the 6 day war, part of that time on a kibbutz at the base of the Golan Heights. We were shelled several times a week and couldn't go out after dark without an armed guard. But I also saw the brutal way the Israelis treated the Palestinians, and it was the main reason I left Israel. I vehemently oppose the actions and policies of the Israeli government, but one thing we don't see here in the US is the strong opposition to government policies inside Israel. We also don't see the Holocaust survivors who went to Palestine/Israel because they had nowhere else to go after the war and who are now rapidly disappearing. Sorry if I digress. This is a very hot-button issue for me.
If you want to see both sides of the story presented in a brilliant and heartbreaking documentary, I recommend TO DIE IN JERSUSALEM: http://www.israelfilmcenterstream.org/film/die-jerusalem


Posted Jun. 05, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
sharonj

Join Date: 01/26/17

Posts: 7

RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

War seen through individuals and families experiences makes it more real for those only reading after the fact. The author could have woven in even more for the reader to further understand what the people lived. I liked how the author showed how people responded to the family differently depending where they were in the world.


Posted Jun. 06, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
jeanettel

Join Date: 01/05/12

Posts: 59

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

This is the first book I read from the perspective of the "Arabs" we are very well informed on the suffering of the Israelites but never consider the other side. It was sad to realize how their lives were also affected. It was interesting how the author used history to show us the devastation this wars had on families and communities
and how the world judged the Palestinians. Great book


Posted Jun. 06, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 259

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

It didn't change my thinking in that I have never thought that the Palestinians were all bad and the Israelis were all good. My heart feels for both sides and my knowledge, while limited on this topic, shows me America and the West in general has not been open-minded, reasonable and fair in how we attempt to influence the outcomes of this conflict. I agree with Naomi about the failure of Americans to come to terms with this -- and I thank you, Naomi, for your honesty and for sharing your own experience.

What this terrific novel did give me was a much richer understanding of the viewpoint we hear less about, voices that are often silenced here. That helped me put myself into that situation and grasp how damaging it is to continually be displaced, even for a family with some economic and professional resources. It showed me how the damage of being driven from your homeland (not to mention losing a son/brother) can impact members of that family for generations. (And of course this happened with the families who came to settle in what is now Israel, too.... that is the tragedy here. Just as in families, on the level of nations, abuse breeds abuse...How I wish we could find a way to end all of this suffering.)


Posted Jun. 06, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
reene

Join Date: 02/18/15

Posts: 312

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

Viewing history through the prism of individuals, of course gives us a different perspective than what we see nightly on the news. Families that are continually displaced will naturally have emotional effects that we pick up by reading about their journey. This family's reality was totally different from what we usually expect because of the financial background they seemed to share. They always had a "house" in which to move into, or were able to fly to the United States, or London or Paris. This I would suspect was not true for most of the people involved in the wars. The book did present a different view than what we are used to, however I am not sure of how accurate the picture was.


Posted Jun. 07, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 259

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

Several people have commented on the Yacoub family's apparent affluence, and Reene wonders how accurate this picture is. I suspect it is accurate --given the author's personal background, having lived in the Middle East (her online bio says she is Palestinian). Not all Palestinians or Arab refugees/emigrants are impoverished, uneducated, and so on, that is an American stereotype. It seems the author wanted us to realize this, as at several points in the story she has a character referring to a source of money: an inheritance of Salma's, for example; or a relative's property made available. The Yacoub family are shown to be professionals, with expectations of women being educated (though not expected to have careers). I assume that this was the author's own background and it was important for her to show readers that Arabic people, of whatever country, like us come from all walks of life-- and that being well-off is no protection from the upheaval and emotional suffering of armed conflict in the Middle East. Though it may give some people access (like Karam's) to professionals in the US or UK who can offer jobs or other help.


Posted Jun. 07, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Marcia S

Join Date: 02/08/16

Posts: 179

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

The book personalizes the Palestinian side of the issue. It's something we aren't exposed to otherwise. I did feel that this was a wealthy family with more breaks than many others. I was glad when the maid left behind by another family was part of the story as it showed how even more desperate things could be. It's good to see the other side of every issue and conflict.


Posted Jun. 07, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
wandak

Join Date: 04/11/18

Posts: 10

RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

We got to see the side of the story from an affluent family. Yet even money cannot buy us safety for our loved once in political turmoil.


Posted Jun. 09, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
reene

Join Date: 02/18/15

Posts: 312

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

Yes, I commented on the family's affluence. JLPen77 remarks that not all Palestinians or Arab refugees/emigrants are impoverished, uneducated and so on. Those are JLPen77's words, not mine. JLPenn77 also refers to these words as an American stereotype. Let's remember that the genre is historical fiction and that the author chose to show one family's struggle. Jlpen77 also uses the words "I suspect", "It seems" and "I assume" thereby indicating that he/she also has questions.


Posted Jun. 10, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
dorothyh

Join Date: 01/23/15

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

agree with wandak


Posted Jun. 10, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
scgirl

Join Date: 06/05/18

Posts: 59

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

People are more important that ideas and that is the perspective Hala Alyan has given us here. Regardless of what you think or know about politics in Palestine and Israel, it is the people who give life to the country. It is important to know their stories and see the world from their perspectives.

The other thing we need to remember is that we are seeing their world through two lenses, the lens of the character and the lens of the author. This is, after all, a work of fiction. I am sure the author tried to remain true to the events of the day but there are historical facts that may or may not be skewed based on the lens we are seeing through.


Posted Jun. 10, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
janicea

Join Date: 04/20/17

Posts: 10

RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

The news coverage, which was the only way I knew of the wars in this area of the world, does not convey the impact that it has on people who are living it. This book helped me understand how one family lived and survived during several decades of continued warfare and political upheaval (of course we have to remember this is a novel and that the author probably took some liberty with the story line as found in all historical novels). It would be interesting if Alyan wrote a novel incorporating the same time frame and events but follows a family who is in a lower socioeconomic class and how they live and survive.


Posted Jun. 11, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
sandrah

Join Date: 07/18/11

Posts: 66

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

We often watch events in countries which seem more "foreign" to us, such as those in the Middle East, by shaking our heads and wondering how they can live in such a place. As I read this book, I had to continually remind myself of the similarities between the characters and those here in our country who try to move away from home. Today we watch the people south of our borders struggling to enter. The fate of their lives is, it seems to me, a way to connect to the various characters in the novel. Small towns in Iowa are filled with immigrants from Mexico, as well as Central and South America. These towns have adjusted , but not always welcomed them as they bring a new language and different customs with them. So reading about Alyan's characters is important as they help us understand those who have migrated here.


Posted Jun. 12, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
joycew

Join Date: 06/13/11

Posts: 90

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

I agree with janeh re; "walk a mile in their shoes". I am so glad we have stories like this one to give us a real feel for what is happening on an individual level. In America we think moving from one house to another is a big deal, or one city to another; they were moving between "countries" which is very hard for me to imagine the drastic changes in their lives. The one aspect the wealth gave them was total escape (going to America) but they paid a drastic cost by giving up their culture and way of life.


Posted Jun. 12, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

In response to Reene, using expressions such as “I suspect “ is just to signal that here I am drawing a conclusion, making an inference— it doesn’t mean that I have questions. I am confident in my inferences because of what I’ve read or experienced outside of the novel.

Obviously this is partly historical fiction— recent history, at least, history in my lifetime. But it is also contemporary reality. I have no reason to question the accuracy of the author’s portrayal of a family with resources being displaced. Palestinians of all walks of life were uprooted, as were more recently Syrians— but I know how some Americans in my area have objected to our taking in refugees of Arab background based on stereotyping: claims they would become public burdens, or that they would be bringing tuberculosis, etc. I did not mean to suggest you are one of them, but simply to address the issue you raised, of how realistic/accurate the novel is. I certainly and reasonably assume that a native Paledtinian such as this author would be drawing upon her experience and knowledge in her fiction.


Posted Jun. 13, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
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taking.mytime

Join Date: 03/29/16

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

Just seeing history through the eyes of a different nationality is eye opening. Seeing the uprooting of a full population of people, knowing that it could also happen to me, is startling. To put myself in their shoes would be devastating. I believe that all of mankind needs to maintain more empathy.


Posted Jun. 13, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
dianaps

Join Date: 05/29/15

Posts: 277

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RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

History is so very important in all our lives and this book has given us a window in the lives of people who have endured war and turmoil and instability in their country. I thank the author for writing this book.


Posted Jun. 14, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
ritah

Join Date: 05/26/11

Posts: 41

RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

Many people express the idea that history is boring. I profess that the word itself says what it is...a story. A story is always made by people and, therefore, viewing history through the prism of individual lives is the only way to truly understand it. Granted, these were fictional characters. However, again, fictional characters need to be based upon some realities. In Salt Houses, both the prism of Palestinians and relatively well-off characters are explored. The aspects of what is shared among all peoples is important. I think that most parents can understand the challenges of raising teenagers; most couples can understand the ups and downs of married relationships; and most family members understand sibling disputes, love and rivalries. But, what stands out here is the way people change through their lives and history interacts with these changes, for better or worse.


Posted Jun. 23, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
audrey1

Join Date: 09/02/13

Posts: 29

RE: How does viewing history through the prism of these individual lives change the way you think of those historical events?

I share you ambiguous feelings. I am also Jewish. A Reform Jew yet I can see that Israel is also a player in the madness in the Middle East. When I was a teenager during the Vietnam War, my father and I had arguments about the war. His stand was "My country right or wrong". I could not buy that. I am uncomfortable with those forces in the Diaspora who use the same phrase with Israel. I feel c omfortable in the congregation I am now in because I feel free to voice my ambiguous feelings and not feel like a traitor. I am a supporter of J Street. I was thinking about joining a trip to Israel next year but I am not sure I want to go there. It feels like going to South Africa while Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. I have no solution . But I thought this was a good account of seeing this history through the eyes of Palestinians. And this family had the resources to continue to get out of harms way and reinvent themselves. The people who have been sitting in refugee camps since 1948 had not place to land and reinvent themselves in a somewhat comfortable way. That is not to take away at the story of this family and their ability to stick together and flourish more than once.


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