"Even when the rainbow seems to pass right by me....I'm still finding Gold in the clouds....."

22 June 2018

2018 Book Review #22: The Map of Salt and Stars

This is a new to me author and she's a young American-Syrian woman.

This book is a story within a story.  It's a parallel of life in the Middle East around the 1100's and life in 2011.  Both stories feature a young girl finding her place in the world. The author notes that the characters in the 1100's setting are based on real people (a few of them).  All other people and events are fictional.  She also did a lot of research on legends about the constellations according to Syrians.  It was very interesting.

This book is also about the current day situation with Syrian refugees.  More on that in "my thoughts" section.


It is the summer of 2011 and Nour's father (Baba) has just died of cancer.  She lives in NYC with her mama, and 2 older sisters, Huda and Zahra.  Mama decides to move the girls back to her home country of Syria. She wants to be closer to her own family.  Nour, while grieving the loss of her father and adjusting to life in a new country/home, tells her self the family's favorite story:  the legend of Rawiya, a 12th century girl who disguises her self to look like a boy so she can go and be an apprentice to a famous map maker. She ends up a warrior and heroine.
The country of Syria, is changing.  Nour and her sisters are afraid of the bombings all around them and sure enough, one night at dinner time, the city where they now live, Homs, is shelled. The bombs destroy their house, their neighborhood and even themselves.  Now Mama needs to make a choice...do they stay or do they flee?  Abu Sayeed, their father's friend who is like family, flees with them rather than taking the risk of enduring more violence.  They travel across 7 countries in the Middle East and North Africa to get to safety in the city of Ceuta. (Spain).  This is the very same route that Rawiya and Al Idrisi, the mapmaker take in order to chart the world.

The journey becomes more and more dangerous and then they must make a choice that might mean the family will be separated forever.


This book was nothing like I've ever read.  It was fascinating, sad, triumphant, and had an underlying ring of reality in today's world.

The parallel stories were brilliant and full of symbolism.

This book is about "coming of age" for two young girls, about loss, hardship, physical danger, and the plight of refugees today.

The theme of these stories is that you know and find your own voice, some things will never be lost.

The author notes that there really was a mapmaker named Al Idrisi in the 12th century who created the first and most accurate map of the world to that date.
The silver planisphere was an actual item but no one knows what became of it. It is believed to have either been melted down or it disappeared after the coup against King William in 1160.  The author takes liberties with its survival...purely for creative, imaginative reasons.

There were several quotes in this book that were profound.  Here are a few of my favorites:

"Stones don't have to be whole to be lovely.....even cracked ones can be polished and set.  Small diamonds, if they are clear and well cut, can be more valuable than big ones with impurities.  Listen, sometimes the smallest stars shine brightest, no?" (pg 82)

"Does it make it easier to live with loss if you don't name it? Or is that something you do as a mercy for other people?" (pg 146)
"Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to delay it, you have to say good-bye. Some things happen the only way they can happen, the way they have been set out to......And God knows all, while we know not." (pg 264)

"A person can be two things at the same time.  The land where your parents were born will always be in you.  Words survive.  Borders are nothing to words and blood. ......Did you know this? No one can take our freedom from us.  No one can take our land or our names from our hearts." (pg 298-299)

The author has a statement in the end of the book about the current situation in Syria.  She states:
"I need not remind the reader that the war in Syria and they Syrian refugee crisis are both very real and that refugees face horrific violence and injustice in their attempts to find safety.  Refugee women are at particular risk of violence, especially sexual violence.  A March 2017 study by Save the Children found that more than 70% of Syrian children showed signs of toxic stress or post-traumatic stress disorder after their country had been wracked with war for nearly six years......over the course of this conflict, childhoods have been cut short; dreams and promising careers have been shattered; families have been broken.  I hope that this book serves as a starting point for education and empathy  and that readers will seek out additional resources, particularly those written by Syrians in their own words." (pg 357, The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, c.2018) 

This book has left an impact on my mind.  I will be mulling this story over for a few days and I will try to learn more about how Americans can help refugees.

In my opinion, this book is appropriate for ages 17 and older although I would love to see this on a required reading list for honors level English high school classes.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, I rate this a 10.


Vicki said...

Great review! I'm going to see if my library has it.

Susanne said...

Saw this at Costco today and almost put it in the buggy but just couldn't as I have soooo many books in the closet awaiting reading. I've put myself on the wait list at the library for it.