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As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh
Young adult

As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Zoulfa Katouh, on your first book!

by Zoulfa Katouh

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Quick take

This powerful story tracks the journey to self-discovery and hope of a young Syrian woman whose life is upended by war.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_International

    International

Synopsis

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.

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Content warning

This book contains a scene depicting the death of a child.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow.
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow

1

Three shriveled lemons and a plastic bag of pita bread that’s more dry than moldy sit next to one another.

That’s all this supermarket has to offer.

I stare with tired eyes before picking them up, my bones aching with every movement. I stroll around the dusty, empty aisles once more, hoping maybe I missed something. But all I’m met with is a strong sense of nostalgia. The days when my brother and I would rush into this supermarket after school and fill our arms with bags of chips and gummy bears. This makes me think of Mama and the way she would shake her head, trying not to smile at her red-faced, starry-eyed children trying their best to hide the spoils of war in their backpacks. She’d brush our hair—

I shake my head.

Stop.

When the aisles prove to be truly empty, I trudge to the counter to pay for the lemons and bread with Baba’s savings. From whatever he was able to withdraw before that fateful day. The owner, a bald old man in his sixties, gives me a sympathetic smile before returning my change.

Outside the supermarket a desolate picture greets me. I don’t recoil, used to the horror, but it amplifies the anguish in my heart.

Cracked road, the asphalt reduced to rubble. Gray buildings hollowed and decaying as the elements try to finish what the military’s bombs started. Utter and absolute destruction.

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Why I love it

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.

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Member ratings (6,998)

  • Amanda G.

    Saint Louis, MO

    This book is so important. Emotional, gut-wrenching, difficult, but also beautiful, hopeful, and full of resilience. Salama’s story demands to be told. I hope to never forget Lemon Trees. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Zoe S.

    Stockton, CA

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ a beautiful, heartbreaking story. Katouh is such an amazing writer, I felt like I was there in Syrian with her characters. I laughed, I sobbed, I wanted to throw the book a few times.

  • Laura B.

    Wentzville, MO

    This book is one of my new favorites. I see why it’s for nomination of being the book of the year. So many twist and amazing adventures while also making me feel all sorts of feelings. 100/100 ❤️❤️❤️

  • Alexis C.

    Greenville, NC

    As long as the Lemon Trees Grow” is a beautifully crafted work of art. It gives you a pause as you explore Salama’s world and the horror that around her. The phrase ‘love conquers all’ comes to mind.

  • Laura P.

    Brooklyn, NY

    Wow. I haven’t felt this moved by a book in a long time! Knowing that it’s Z. Katouh’s debut novel is impressive. Her characters are poignant and raw. It’s a book about hope and a love letter to Syria

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