August 31, 2018
Genre/Categories: Fiction, Mythology, Folk Tale, Magical Realism, Coming of Age, Syrian, Story Within a Story
The Map of Salt and Stars is really two stories. One story is contemporary and the other is a mythological folk tale that takes place 800 years earlier. In the contemporary story, Nour’s mother, a Syrian-American, a cartographer and painter of beautiful maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria after the death of Nour’s father. The mother feels a strong desire to live closer to her family. After they arrive in Syria, they experience effects of the civil war evidenced by protests and shelling in their quiet neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s home and neighborhood, she and her family and a close family friend of her father’s are forced to flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety.
The story within the story is a favorite folk tale that Nour’s father told her over and over again as a young girl. Nour loves the main character in the folk tale, Rawiya, who becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the region. Rawiya follows al-Idrisi on a journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where they encounter a mythical beast and fight epic battles.
There are strong connections between the two stories as Nour and her family are forced from their home to travel the identical route that Rawiya traveled eight hundred years earlier. Throughout the journey, Nour remembers and is inspired by the heroine of her favorite folktale as she faces similar challenges and fears.
Early Amazon Rating (August): 4.5
There’s a lot to like about this story!
Favorite Quote: “[King Roger] explained that he often came to the library at night. He motioned to the shelves of books, their spines polished gold, tawny brown, and russet leather. ‘Anyone who wants company and knowledge will find what they seek here,’ he said. ‘We are among friends.’ ”
Connections. Throughout the larger story, the two separate stories are connected in several ways. A few examples:
- The characters in each story take a journey, have adventures, experience heartache, redefine the meaning of family, and hold out hope for ‘home.’
- Both characters disguise themselves as boys.
- Both girls grieve over the loss of a beloved father.
- Nour’s mother is a map maker and painter while Rawiya is an apprentice to a map maker.
- Both girls leave home and face grief on their journey.
- The stories have some similar plot devices (one example among many is that Nour leads her family to safety [remembering the way to her father’s friend’s house] after their neighborhood was bombed and Rawiya saves her small expedition from a huge white attacking bird).
Themes. The story is filled with poignant themes including grief, beloved fathers, dangerous journeys, the comfort of stars, faith, and the search for home.
The Writing. Beautiful descriptive writing and sensory details fill every page of this story creating a memorable sense of place. Readers who appreciate figurative language will enjoy creative and descriptive phrases including fresh and unique similes, metaphors, and personification. The symbolism of salt and stars also encourages thoughtful reflection.
Compelling Characters: Meet Nour and Rawiya
Both main protagonists in The Map of Salt and Stars are young girls (coming of age). Nour and Rawiya are strong females with leadership qualities and are compelling characters (Cooler reviewers than me would call them “badass girls.”)
- Nour is a bit melancholy, seriously reflective and thoughtful, has color Synesthesia, appears to have a photographic memory, exhibits leadership abilities, and is brave and daring.
- Rawiya is fearlessly confident. She is best described in the following quotes:
When Khaldun (a young man) doubts that he can throw a stone high enough to kill Roc, the giant white mythological bird, Rawiya quietly and confidently says, “Perhaps I can.”
When she was discovered as a girl, she challenged her critics, “You once said I had courage, heart. That heart still beats. The body that cradles it is no large matter.”
…and my favorite….
I am a woman and a warrior,” Rawiya said, her blade cutting into his club. “If you think I can’t be both, you’ve been lied to.“
Recommended. I highly recommend The Map of Salt and Stars for readers who appreciate historical fiction and stories set in diverse cultures, for those who seek stories of strong, independent, confident girls, for readers who would like an ambitious blending of a contemporary and a mythological story (with a bit of magical realism added to the mix), and definitely for readers with Syrian heritage. Even though this story is categorized adult fiction, I think mature middle grade girls and young adults who are looking for literary role models would be engaged by this story and be inspired by the female protagonists.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars (rounded up to 5 Stars)
Meet the Author, Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar is a Syrian American author. Originally from New York City, Jennifer was born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother. She is a member of the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI) and of American Mensa. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, The Saturday Evening Post, PANK Magazine, Mizna, and elsewhere. Jennifer is a 2017-2020 Montalvo Arts Center Lucas Artists Program Literary Arts Fellow and an alum of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) and the Tin House Writers’ Workshop. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net.
Have you read The Map of Salt and Stars or is it on your TBR?
Do you enjoy the story within a story structure?
One book I read with this same story within a story structure is Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry.
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My Summer TBR
I’ll be updating my Summer TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often!
(So far I’ve read a good portion of the list (crossing off one more next week), some I’ve been more thrilled with than others, and I’ve only abandoned one)
Over the weekend, look for my August Wrap Up post.
Next Friday, I hope to bring you a review of Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance.
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