"When Salma peers into her daughter's coffee cup, she knows instantly she must lie..."
And so begins Salt Houses by Hala Alyan, the sweeping tale of a Palestinian family from the 1960s to the present day. The inner flap of the book describes it as "a debut novel about a family caught between present and past, between displacement and home." Salma, the matriarch, is uprooted from her home in Jaffa in the wake of Israeli independence in 1948 and moves to Nablus. Her family then leaves Nablus in the wake of the Six-Day War in 1967; her daughter, Alia, settles in Kuwait with her new husband. After the First Gulf War in 1990 (do you see where this is going), Alia's family moves to Beirut, Lebanon, and her children move around the globe.
The plot is rather straightforward: it follows the women of the Yacoub family through their lives. First Salma, then Alia, then Souad, then Manar. While the women get further removed from the physical home of Palestine, they strive to remember and search for a place to call home. And here is where Hala Alyan's writing is exquisite: she crafts a portrait of a family who wants to move forward but cannot. They cannot because they cannot forget the pain in their past. Alyan, herself Palestinian-American, writes from personal experience, telling NPR "I definitely think there was an intergenerational trauma that went along with losing a homeland that you see trickle down through the different generations." Alyan has published three poetry collections, but this is her first novel.
I was completely sucked into the story, and I loved how it centered on the women. Even though I have a lot of background in studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I thought the historical events never overshadowed the narrative. This book should 1000% be what you read next. Rating: ★★★★★