Summary and book reviews of The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

The Map of Salt and Stars

by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar X
The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
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  • Published:
    May 2018, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Renner

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About this Book

Book Summary

This rich, moving, and lyrical debut novel is to Syria what The Kite Runner was to Afghanistan; the story of two girls living eight hundred years apart - a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker - places today's headlines in the sweep of history, where the pain of exile and the triumph of courage echo again and again.

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour's mother once knew is changing, and it isn't long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour's house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour's idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow's daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

A deep immersion into the richly varied cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, The Map of Salt and Stars follows the journeys of Nour and Rawiya as they travel along identical paths across the region eight hundred years apart, braving the unknown beside their companions as they are pulled by the promise of reaching home at last.

The Earth and the Fig

The island of Manhattan's got holes in it, and that's where Baba sleeps. When I said good night to him, the white bundle of him sagged so heavy, the hole they dug for him so deep. And there was a hole in me too, and that's where my voice went. It went into the earth with Baba, deep in the white bone of the earth, and now it's gone. My words sunk down like seeds, my vowels and the red space for stories crushed under my tongue.

I think Mama lost her words too, because instead of talking, her tears watered everything in the apartment. That winter, I found salt everywhere—under the coils of the electric burners, between my shoelaces and the envelopes of bills, on the skins of pomegranates in the gold-trimmed fruit bowl. The phone rang with calls from Syria, and Mama wrestled salt from the cord, fighting to untwist the coils.

Before Baba died, we hardly ever got calls from Syria, just emails. But Mama said in an emergency, you've got ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What can you surmise from the novel about Baba's connection to each of his daughters and how the girls come to depend on those bonds after the bombing in Syria?
  2. How do the two different timelines influence the plot? Was this an effective way to tell the story? What demands does it place upon you, and what are its pleasures? Did it help you to feel closer to the characters? Why or why not?
  3. What effect does Baba's death have on Noor's mother and her relationship with her daughters?
  4. What affect does Abu Sayeed's arrival have on Nour and her family? Compare and contrast Abu Sayeed's relationship with Mama, Zahra, and Nour. Discuss the role of family and community in the lives of the characters. Provide examples of ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The novel is filled with effortlessly stunning passages ... a true feat of writing. The most important aspect of the novel, however, is its treatment of history. Though it touches on myth and magic, many of the historical characters like Al-Idrisi are real and an integral part of, not only world history, but Nour's cultural sense of self. The major message of The Map of Salt and Stars is that the destruction of a homeland threatens to destroy history, but that history can never die as long as people, like Nour, choose to remember.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Renner).

Full Review (630 words).

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Media Reviews

Library Journal
A wise, vibrantly told story for a wide range of readers, particularly relevant now

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. [An] ambitious debut… Joukhadar plunges the Western reader full force into the refugee world with sensual imagery.

Author Blurb Hala Alyan, author of Salt Houses
With clear, exquisite prose, Joukhadar unspools a brightly imagined tale of family and grief, mapmaking and migration. This important book is a love letter to the vanished - and to what remains.

Author Blurb Chris Bohjalian, bestselling author of The Flight Attendant and The Guest Room
E. M. Forster taught us that 'fiction is truer than history because it goes beyond the evidence.' Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar's magic first novel is a testimony to that maxim. We've all been aware of the plight of Syrian refugees, but in this richly imaginative story we see one small family – both haunted by history and saved by myth – work their way west. It's beautiful and lovely and eye-opening.

Author Blurb Kirstin Chen, author of Bury What We Cannot Take and Soy Sauce for Beginners
The Map of Salt and Stars is the sweeping, thrillingly ambitious tale of Nour, Rawiya, and their parallel searches for home. In twin narratives that unfold eight hundred years apart, Joukhadar captures the unrelenting courage of those who persist amid the trials of exile. A truly remarkable debut.

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Beyond the Book

Ancient Cartography

Imago MundiMapmaking has been a vital part of human curiosity for millennia. The oldest known world map is the Babylonian Map of the World, also known as the Imago Mundi, which dates back to the 5th century BCE. This early map is not alone. Archaeologists have found many map-like representations in caves, some of which even show images of star patterns ancient people saw in the night sky. And there is the possibility of a much older extant map in the form of a wall painting found in 1961 in Turkey which is believed to be more than 8,000 years old and is generally considered to be either the earliest landscape painting or the earliest known map.

Maps have come a long way since then as humanity has explored the world, discovered new media for art ...

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