Nour is a young Syrian girl who has lost her father to cancer. Wanting to be close to her relatives, Nour's mother - a cartographer who makes beautiful hand-painted maps - moves her family back to the city of Homs. Nour's father was a real storyteller and he told her that the roots of the trees connect to the ground across the world. She knows they left her father in the ground back in America, so she starts telling him the ancient fable of Rawiya, whispering it into the ground so he might hear.
Rawiya left her home dressed as a boy in order to explore the world. She became apprenticed to Al Idrisi, who was a famous cartographer tasked by King Roger II of Sicily to make the first map of the world. Together with Al Idrisi, Rawiya travelled the globe, encountering adventures - including the mythical Roc and a battle in the Valley of Snakes - along the way. It is this story that gives Nour the courage to keep going when she has to leave Homs after it is bombed and faces a long journey as a refugee in search of a new home - a journey that closely mirrors that of Rawiya many centuries before.
When Nour and her sister are forced to part from their mother, she gives them a special map that contains clues that will lead them to safety. The two stories are beautifully told and interwoven, the real interspersed with the magical/imagined so that the overall effect is uplifting - about the strength of the human spirit, the strength of women in particular, the power of a journey, and what it takes to find a home.
Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar is a Syrian American author, and a member of the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI). Originally from New York City, Jennifer was born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother. After earning her PhD in the Pathobiology Graduate Program at Brown University, she worked as a biomedical research scientist before switching careers to pursue writing full time. Jennifer's short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in THE KENYON REVIEW, THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, PANK MAGAZINE, GULF STREAM LITERARY MAGAZINE, THE NORMAL SCHOOL, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net. She has also previously published work under the name Jennifer Zeynab Maccani.
In this beautifully nuanced debut novel from Syrian American author, Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, two parallel journeys alternate with and counter each other, highlighting the connections between the vital importance of the stories we tell and the psycho-geography of maps. * THE LONDON MAGAZINE * A very good book, and an important, eye-opening one too. * INTERZONE * This imaginative yet very real look into war-torn Syria is a must. * BOOK LIST ONLINE * The Map of Salt and Stars presents an Arab world in full possession of its immense historical and cultural biography, marred by its modern tragedies but not exclusively defined by them. * BOOK PAGE * After the death of her beloved father, imaginative 11-year-old Nour leaves New York City, where she was born, and returns home with her cartographer mother and two older sisters to the family's native Syria, where bombs released by Assad's forces soon destroy their home and send them on a desperate flight across North Africa. More than 800 years earlier, Rawiya, the daughter of an impoverished widow, disguises herself as a boy and leaves medieval Ceuta-modern Spain's foothold on the African coast-and apprentices herself to a mapmaker, traveling with him throughout the Levant. The stories are deftly interwoven, for Nour's father has told her about Rawiya's fabulous, sometimes mythic adventures. Parallels abound, from the spunky, triumphant heroines to mapmaking as a key to finding oneself to the special stone Nour hunts, once the eye of a terrifying winged creature battled by Rawiya. Debut novelist Joukhadar gracefully balances the gritty, often horrific truth of the refugee's plight with the lyrical near-fairy tale she has created (in both time periods), layered with burnished hope and occasionally overplayed sentiment.
VERDICT A wise, vibrantly told story for a wide range of readers, particularly relevant now. * Library Journal * Scheherazade's "The Thousand and One Nights" meets Alan Gratz's "Refugee" in this important debut novel ...There are parts that will make your heart stop and parts that will make it beat again. It's an incredible force. * WILDLY READ * A spellbinding geography of family and hope. * SHELF AWARENESS * Joukhadar's prose is like a dream, which is fitting for this pair of stories, one drawn from fantastical legend, the other from nightmarish current events from which Syria has yet to awaken. * SEATTLE TIMES * A gorgeous and timely story * THE ARAB DAILY NEWS * The interweaving of the two stories is skilfully done... Joukhadar can be congratulated on an unusual first novel. * MAIL ON SUNDAY * Full of tension and love and danger. This is a beautifully told, magical novel about journeys and finding your way home. * STYLIST *