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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:
What do the two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?: the Salt Houses of the book's title and Alia who "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion.

Created: 05/25/18

Replies: 9

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

Join Date: 10/15/10

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What do the two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?: the Salt Houses of the book's title and Alia who "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion.

The book's title, Salt Houses, is explained by Atef on page 273. But just before that passage, on page 270, he muses that Alia "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion. What do these two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?


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

Join Date: 02/08/16

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RE: What do the two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?: the Salt Houses of the book's title and Alia who "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion.

To "salt the earth" is a way to destroy the soil and water— to leave it unfit for others. Alia didn't want to leave the good qualities of her home to the enemy. On the other hand, salt deteriorates, as did the sense of home as the family moved from house to house through the years. When Atef thinks of their past houses/homes. "They glitter whitely in his mind, like structures of salt, before a tidal wave comes and sweeps them away." (p. 273) The houses/homes aren't permanent in this story, thus they are "salt houses"— easily swept away.


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

Join Date: 11/29/17

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RE: What do the two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?: the Salt Houses of the book's title and Alia who "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion.

A salt house would not be a stable dwelling as all their moves indicated, while salting the earth would destroy the ability of others to ever make use of the soil . I would think it would also say that we could never return there and have a life again.


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

Join Date: 02/18/15

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RE: What do the two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?: the Salt Houses of the book's title and Alia who "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion.

I found the use of the word "salt" very confusing. Salt was always used as a preservative, yet here it was used to mean something that could be easily destroyed as in "salt houses", where the homes would be easily destroyed or washed away. The tern "salt of the earth" referred to someone who was an upstanding character, yet here "to salt the earth" meant to destroy it, so it could never be used by any one else. Salt was a theme throughout the book. There were several references to salt, as in tears and food.


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

Join Date: 02/05/16

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RE: What do the two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?: the Salt Houses of the book's title and Alia who "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion.

I believe the multiple meanings/uses/connotations of salt are a way of expressing the theme: what is meant to preserve a homeland for some people is also in actuality destroying it for others, and for generations-- and as they lose their homes, their bitterness and pain creates still more conflict, or has the potential to. This goes beyond irony into tragedy. Nobody can live in a "salt house." That's the message.


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

Join Date: 01/23/15

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RE: What do the two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?: the Salt Houses of the book's title and Alia who "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion.

Salt houses are not a forever home, when they are destroyed nothing can grow where they fell.


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: What do the two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?: the Salt Houses of the book's title and Alia who "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion.

I saw references to salt throughout the book. To salt the earth, I thought was to preserve it for a future generation, once the war was over. But by the act of salting it, left it unusable in the current day, so as not to leave anything of value behind.

The Salt Houses appeared to me as a loss in that time, leaving nothing behind. A permanent fix to a temporary situation - destroy now to enable others to build in the future.


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

Join Date: 06/05/18

Posts: 40

RE: What do the two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?: the Salt Houses of the book's title and Alia who "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion.

While I agree with all that has been said, I keep going back to two other uses of the world salt - the first be people who are referred to as "the salt of the earth" and how we talk about someone being "worth his salt".

Salt is required for life and until the invention of canning and freezing, it was the primary means of preservation of food.

"Salt of the earth people" are people who are good and representative of the best attributes of society. I think this would, by and large, describe the families we get to see in this book. They have done their best to live good lives although conflicts with the world and each other are unavoidable.

When we talk about someone who is worth his salt it means that he/she is of a good quality and works hard. Salt was considered so precious that Roman soldiers were paid a "salarium" to buy salt. It is thought this is the origin of the word "salary". Again I feel these are fitting descriptions of the people in the book. The only one who might not be "worth his salt" was Atef who gave up his friend, Mustafa.

Of course you might take my thoughts with a "grain of salt". ::;-)::


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

Join Date: 05/29/15

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RE: What do the two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?: the Salt Houses of the book's title and Alia who "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion.

When I first got the book I was thinking saltbox houses. Then I thought about all the definitions and uses for salt, one of which is to bring out the flavor in what you are cooking. Therefore, I feel that salt brought out the flavor of this story.


Posted Jun. 16, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
acstrine

Join Date: 02/06/17

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RE: What do the two very different uses of the word salt evoke for you, as a reader?: the Salt Houses of the book's title and Alia who "would have smashed the windows and salted the earth" before leaving her mother's house in an invasion.

Perhaps the use of the word is more similar in both instances than different. A house made of salt is temporary, of course, standing only until the time the tide takes it away- -or the war. But when this salt house falls, it also salts the earth. Maybe not poisoning the land from future use, but the next family who comes to live there will know there was once a family. They were only able to have land for a home by displacing another. In the book The Lemon Tree, a Palestinian family loses their home. The son (I believe- -it has been a long time since I read it), returns to find his old home and meets the current Israeli occupant. The young woman was unaware of the home's history. Once she met the previous inhabitant and realized she had a home because someone else did not, her thinking seemed to change a bit. Both young people were able to talk about a dream of co-existing, peacefully.


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