Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for the arc in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Salama Kassab was a pharmacy student when the cries for freedom broke out in Syria. She still had her parents and her big brother; she still had her home. She had a normal teenager’s life.
Now Salama volunteers at a hospital in Homs, helping the wounded who flood through the doors daily. Secretly, though, she is desperate to find a way out of her beloved country before her sister-in-law, Layla, gives birth. So desperate, that she has manifested a physical embodiment of her fear in the form of her imagined companion, Khawf, who haunts her every move in an effort to keep her safe.
But even with Khawf pressing her to leave, Salama is torn between her loyalty to her country and her conviction to survive. Salama must contend with bullets and bombs, military assaults, and her shifting sense of morality before she might finally breathe free. And when she crosses paths with the boy she was supposed to meet one fateful day, she starts to doubt her resolve in leaving home at all.
Soon, Salama must learn to see the events around her for what they truly are—not a war, but a revolution—and decide how she, too, will cry for Syria’s freedom.
TW: death (adult & children), torture, sexual assault, murder, war, starvation, PTSD, grief
This book is devastating and hauntingly beautiful and a story that I will be thinking about for a long time. There are scenes that are seared into my memory, scenes that utterly broke me and I had to stop reading. This book made me sob and it is one of the most beautiful stories I have read.
This story is set just after the Syrian revolution began and deals with what happens to the people who are living in a war torn country. We meet Salama who wanted to become a pharmacist but those dreams are shattered when the revelation begins and now helps at the hospital saving as many people as she can. She meets Kenan who wanted to study animation but now films what is happening in Syria and uploads it to youtube so people can see what is happening. Together they bring back hope into their lives despite the circumstances they live in.
As long as the lemon trees grow hope will never die.
There is also Layla, Salama’s sister in law and only family left after her parents are murdered and her brother imprisoned. And Kenan’s younger brother and sister that he is doing his best to protect. These people are Salama and Kenan’s lifelines. Seeing how they feel terrified that anything could happen to them and there would be nothing that they could do. There are several scenes that are inspired by real life events and that made it even more chilling and devastating to read.
This land is me. And I am her. My history, my ancestors, my family, we’re all here.
We also meet Khawf who is part of Salama’s hallucination, he is the one that keeps pushing her to find a way to leave Syria to find safety but she feels guilty for leaving while there is so many people who need her help. She has learnt on the job but she always has a wealth of pharmacological knowledge that helps so many people. Kenan feels like he needs to fight for his home and share with the world what is happening. I really loved seeing the different aspects and how they struggled with the choices they made. It was so raw and real and I felt that struggle with them. Zoulfa has written these characters so beautifully and they are complex and feel so real and I completely fell in love with them. I also loved seeing how they carved out some joy for themselves amidst all the sorrow.
When they realise they will not survive long enough to make any impact they decide they need to leave to keep their family safe. But even the journey to escape is harrowing. Zoulfa doesn’t shy away from the realities of what has happened and continues to happen in Syria and everyone needs to read it.
This is a book that everyone needs to read. It gives voice to the voiceless and shows us the strength and resilience of the Syrians and their fight for justice and freedom and how hope can be find in even the most difficult circumstances.