This powerful story tracks the journey to self-discovery and hope of a young Syrian woman whose life is upended by war.
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I remember when As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow was first announced. I read the brief synopsis and gasped. It felt like the book I’d been waiting for—that the world had been waiting for—for years.
With fine storytelling and lyrical prose, Zoulfa Katouh paints a portrait of life in war-torn Syria as seen through the eyes of the resilient, beautiful Salama Kassab, a pharmacy student who finds herself on the front lines as a hospital volunteer while desperately trying to find a way to leave the country she loves so much before her pregnant sister-in-law gives birth. There are no easy answers for Salama and as her PTSD manifests in unexpected ways, she also finds herself, impossibly, improbably, falling in love.
As a Muslim American, I’ve felt the dearth of books that richly and authentically portray conflicts across the Islamic world. Felt a twist in my gut as I saw so much of the world turning away from the suffering of some refugees because they were brown, because they were Muslim. Do you remember the photo of Syrian three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up onto a beach after he tried to flee war? That photo was shared millions of times, but how many people stopped to read about his family, some of whom also died in those waves?
Too often, and too easily, we turn away from these stories of suffering. Zoulfa's gorgeous, wrenching debut asks us to not turn away. As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is a novel about war, about life, about undeniable love, and about the enduring, life-altering power of hope.
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.