Excerpt from Salt Houses by Hala Alyan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Salt Houses

by Hala Alyan

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan X
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2017, 320 pages
    Jun 5, 2018, 336 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Claire McAlpine

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


March 1963

When Salma peers into her daughter's coffee cup, she knows instantly she must lie. Alia has left a smudge of coral lipstick on the rim. The cup is ivory, intricate spirals and whorls painted on the exterior in blue, a thin crack snaking down one side. The cup belongs to a newer set, bought here in Nablus when Salma and her husband, Hussam, arrived nearly fifteen years ago. It was the first thing she'd bought, walking through the marketplace in an unfamiliar city.

In a stall draped with camelhair coats and rugs, Salma spotted the coffee set, twelve cups stacked next to an ibrik with a slender spout. They rested upon a silver tray. It was the tray that gave Salma pause, the triangular pattern so similar to the one her own mother gave her when she first wed. But it was gone, the old tray and coffee set, along with so many of their belongings, the dresses and walnut furniture and Hussam's books. All left behind in that villa, painted the color of peach flesh, that had been their home.

Salma cried out when she saw the tray, pointed it out to the vendor. He refused to sell it without the coffee set and so she'd taken it all, walking home with the large, newspaper-swathed bundle. It was her first satisfaction in Nablus.

Over the years she has presented the tray in the same arrangement, the ibrik in the center, the cups, petal-like, encircling it. Twice a month the maid takes the tray and other silverware onto the veranda and carefully dabs them with vinegar. It hasn't lost its gleam.

The cups, however, are well worn. Hundreds of times, Salma has placed a saucer over the rim and flipped the cup upside down, waiting for the coffee dregs to dry. She prefers to wait ten minutes but often becomes occupied with her guests, only to remember much later with a hasty "Oh!" And the cup would be righted, the coffee remnants leaving desiccated, grainy streaks that stained the porcelain a faded brunette hue.

This time, Salma is barely able to wait the customary ten minutes. She listens to the women discuss the weather and whether or not the warmth will last until the wedding tomorrow. It will be held in the banquet hall of a nearby hotel, one that has hosted dignitaries and mayors and even a film star, once, in the fifties. Silk bows have already been tied to the backs of the chairs; tea-light candles set in arcs around the plates wait for flames. When lit, they will look like a constellation. Salma has already tested this, she and the concierge circling the tables and kissing the tips of matches to wicks. The concierge dimmed the lights, and the effect, incandescent and lovely, had warmed Salma.

"Throw out the candles. I'll order new ones," she'd told the concierge, aware of his eyes on her, the begrudging awe. Extravagance. But it is Alia, Alia to be wed, and no expense is to be spared. No blackened candles with miserable wick-nubs around the table settings.

With Widad, it was different. Ten years earlier, Salma sat silently throughout her eldest's wedding ceremony, a pitiful gathering in the mosque, the scent of incense potent around them. When the imam read the Fatiha, Widad started to cry. Her father had died three months earlier. The dying had taken years. Salma would sit beside him after praying fajr and listen to the clatter his chest made as he drew air in and released it. The first light of the day would slowly fill their bedroom. Salma spoke directly to God during those minutes, in a manner that felt shameless to her. She asked for her husband to live. She knew it was selfish, knew his life with its morphine and bloody handkerchiefs wasn't one he wanted to keep.

More than once he cried out into the night, "They took my home, they took my lungs. Kill me, kill me." Hussam fiercely believed his illness was tied to the occupation of Jaffa, the city with the peach-colored house they'd left behind.

Excerpted from Salt Houses by Hala Alyan. Copyright © 2017 by Hala Alyan. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Speak No Evil
    Speak No Evil
    by Uzodinma Iweala
    Young Nigerian American writer Uzodinma Iweala is fast becoming known as a powerful chronicler of ...
  • Book Jacket: Winter
    by Ali Smith
    "God was dead; to begin with." This first sentence of Winter perfectly sets up the dreamy journey ...
  • Book Jacket: A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    by Atia Abawi

    When you're a refugee, everyone has lost, at least for the time being... And the journey ...

  • Book Jacket: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One N U G

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.