SALT HOUSES by Hala Alyan
The meaning of the title is noted three fourth of the way through the book when the family patriarch, Atef, reminisces, “the houses glitter whitely…like structures made of salt before a tidal wave sweeps them away.” His family – 4 generations – leave behind houses as war follows them from Palestine, to Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Boston, Manhattan and back to Lebanon. One of the daughters in trying to identify her heritage is at a loss. Is she Palestinian – she has never lived there. Is she Lebanese or Arab or Kuwaiti or……..
And that is the essence of this tale. What is our heritage? Is it the place of our birth, where we live NOW, where we lived before, how do we define ourselves?
Alyan describes loss and heartache in beautiful prose. Her characters live and breathe. The sense of place is palpable. Although this tale is specifically Palestinian, the rootlessness of the refugee is timeless and placeless.
You will need the family tree at the beginning of the book to keep the generations straight. The time and place notations at the beginning of each chapter help the reader keep track of the family’s migrations and the time frame of the various wars and tragedies from just before the 6 Day War through the current Middle East uprisings.
Lots for book groups to discuss here.
5 of 5 stars