Not Logged in.
Book Jacket

Salt Houses


From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut novel about a Palestinian family...
Summary and Reviews
Excerpt
Reading Guide

Discuss Salt Houses by Hala Alyan:
Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

Created: 05/25/18

Replies: 18

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

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 1584

Expert

Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

At the end of the novel, on page 270, we learn that in fact it was the mild-mannered scholar Atef who pushed Mustafa--the handsome orator--to stay in the Six-Day War. Were you surprised by that revelation? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?


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

Join Date: 05/02/12

Posts: 9

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

What surprised me more was that Atef was the one who folded under torture and betrayed Mustafa.


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

Join Date: 08/16/17

Posts: 39

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

As an academic Atef’s actions fit what might even be stereotyped. As such it did not surprise me. Atef’s guilt, expressed in the letters he wrote, was fairly mild. He did not really appear to blame himself as much as might be expected. He did not make amends, ask for forgiveness or destroy his own life in remorse. Perhaps this is more realistic treatment than standard treatment in a novel.


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

Join Date: 06/03/18

Posts: 2

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

I agree, naomib. I was shocked and dismayed by Atef’s role in Mustafa’s torture and subsequent
death. As someone else stated, Atef was not overcome with such grief and guilt that he attempted
to make amends or seek forgiveness. To her dying day, Alia never knew the extent of Atef’s role in bringing about her brother’s death. I personally didn’t care for this character. I felt he was weak and had little remorse for his actions. Not very likeable to me. JMO


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

Join Date: 02/08/16

Posts: 176

Expert

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

I knew he had a secret about Mustafa's imprisonment and death. He wrote those secret letters to Mustafa, which he then hid. He was never honest with Alia or her family about what happened. It was denial of what he'd done. I don't think he ever really faced the truth of his involvement and he certainly never told the truth to Mustafa's family. He carried the burden to protect himself and his place in the family.


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

Join Date: 05/16/16

Posts: 34

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

I kept waiting for the big reveal about how Mustafa died through Atef's journal. I do wish he would have shared with Alia what happened but I think he was afraid that she would leave him. In hindsight, it would have been better for both Atef and Mustafa to leave town.


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

Join Date: 02/06/17

Posts: 59

Expert

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

I think Atef had always looked up to Mustafa. He had more courage when they were together. Atef also knew how angry Alia had been at having to leave- -how much she loved her home and hated being in Kuwait. Atef was angry that Mustafa was going to choose to walk away when other people hadn't been given the opportunity to make that choice. Before Atef verbally attacked Mustafa, he said over and over, "I need him. I need him." Mustafa made Atef feel strong. He wanted to prove his worth to the men, maybe even his wife (she loved Mustafa so). Atef was the coward, and he was depending on the strength of Mustafa to see him through in honor of his wife and what she had to leave behind. But alone Atef was weak. He thought only of himself and what he stood to lose. It is understandable in some way that he gave up Mustafa. Neither of the boys were completely radicalized- -they were in a social group- -pulled into something bigger than both of them- -not wanting to lose face at the mosque, or with each other. Atef had his wife; he needed to return to her. Mustafa had nothing or no one. He was the obvious sacrifice.


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

Join Date: 05/02/12

Posts: 9

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

To Paulagb and Liv - I, too, agree that his response was weak and shallow, perhaps not really believable. To drop a bombshell like this so late in the novel with not really much (if any) foreshadowing did not work for me. It seemed to me as if all the characters kind of skated on the surface of the suffering that being uprooted by war not once but multiple times must cause. As the daughter of a Holocaust refugee and someone who has worked for 15 years with war refugees, this is not the story I know.


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

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 324

Expert

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

I figured there was something there, but I thought his turmoil was due to simply encouraging Mustafa’s radicalism and his own survivor’s guilt. I was stunned not so much that he goaded Mustafa into staying, but that he did so for such selfish reasons. He didn’t mean what he said but at the same time was too young and immature to admit it at the time, and too ashamed to admit it later. It seemed that realizing his grandchildren knew the truth was a relief to him.


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

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 229

Expert

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

Yes and no. I felt there was something Atef was feeling very guilty about, that he would not discuss any of this with Alia, or anyone, and I must respectfully disagree with some others here that he wasn't feeling "guilty enough" -- I think decades he spent retreating to his study regularly to write letters to Mustafa clearly shows how very guilty he felt at surviving when his friend did not, at having egged him on when he might have saved himself. That is evidence to me of how Atef never got over this, never got to the point he could forgive himself and thereby free himself to seek forgiveness from anyone else -- especially not from his wife. His guilt was a wedge in his relationship with Alia. He suffered a great deal, he just wasn't going to show it. That is why it was a such a relief to him when his grandchildren learned the truth.


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

Join Date: 01/23/15

Posts: 113

Expert

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

Yes, thought Mustafa was the stronger of the two. Who knows what one would do under torture, hence Atef life long guilt.


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

Join Date: 06/05/18

Posts: 40

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

Yes and that was heartbreaking. Mustafa was reluctant to talk anyway and then when Atef questioned his commitment and manhood when Mustafa was ready to leave was a tragedy. To further compound this, Atef implicated Mustafa under torture. I was surprised that Atef even went home after the events. There is no way he could have told his wife at any time, she definitely would have left him.


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

Join Date: 02/18/15

Posts: 311

Expert

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

Yes, I was surprised at the extent of Atif's guilt. I knew he had goaded Mustafa into not leaving, into staying and fighting, actually questioning his manhood. I was surprised that he would implicate his friend during his torture. Then no one knows what one would do. But this was his wife's brother and he never spoke of his actions. How deeply he was actually involved in Mustafa's death was a surprise. He eased his quilt by writing letters to Mustafa, but by the sample letter, I am not sure he confessed his quilt even there. He never spoke of it to Alia, even though her family often wondered what had happened. He would never tell Alia, for he knew with her temper he would be gone. It amazed me that none of the grandchildren would ask questions or that he could even face them.


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

Join Date: 06/13/11

Posts: 90

Expert

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

I feel Kimk nailed it with encouraging radicalism and survivor's guilt. He felt he did atone for his actions by his grandchildren reading the letters and knowing the truth. He was young and immature at the time it happened and it looks much worse from hindsight.


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

Join Date: 03/29/16

Posts: 97

Expert

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

I think Liv explained my reasoning best. I always felt Atef was the weak one. The one not to be trusted, the one not forthright.


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

Join Date: 05/29/15

Posts: 256

Expert

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

No, I was not surprised. Everyone has voiced their thoughts to this and I cannot think of anything else to add.


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

Join Date: 06/05/18

Posts: 40

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

So I hadn't thought of these until reading some of the posts but...do you think Atef was jealous of Mustafa? Did that have anything to do with his goading Mustafa into going to war? Mustafa had it all - he had money, had been given his mother's house, was apparently a good orator. While Mustafa's father had died, it was due to illness. On the other side, Atef's mother struggled to keep things together after his father became a martyr for the cause. Atef even marries Alia, Mustafa's sister, to be part of this family.

I agree we don't know what we would do under torture, and these were relatively young men not trained warriors, but how much did jealousy factor into the decision to go to war and to betray Mustafa?


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

Join Date: 05/26/11

Posts: 41

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

I was mildly surprised but I think it is quite understandable. At the moment of decision of whether or not to leave, Atef was taken by surprise at Mustafa's intentions. He truly believe Mustafa's rhetoric that he had been spouting in the mosque and, now, what a turn-around. I think Atef was so taken aback that he could only react with the impetuous of masculine youth at that point. As for his actions under torture, that is why torture is employed. I daresay I would probably break easily as do many. Judging someone for what they do under torture is deplorably righteous. I think Atef chose a very adult way to handle grief and guilt...he worked it out himself by writing letters to the deceased and did not burden anyone else with this knowledge.


Posted Jul. 29, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
millicentg

Join Date: 03/10/15

Posts: 15

RE: Were you surprised by the revelation that it was Atef who pushed Mustafa to stay in the Six-Day War? How did it change your understanding of those two characters?

This was a family...like so many from all cultures...who have a history riddled with unspoken secrets...do these secrets need to be exposed ...does exposure help erase the guilt that simmers? Does it benefit the children...the grandchildren...future generations ...to know these buried shames? I am less and less sure of this answer as I get older...


Reply

Please login to post a response.