cover image Salt Houses

Salt Houses

Hala Alyan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-544-91258-8

Alyan blends joy with pain, frustration with elation, longing with boredom in this beautiful debut novel filled with the panoply of life. The frontispiece tells the whole story in microcosm with a family tree of the Palestinian Yacoub family, who, for most of the book, no longer lives in Palestine. One brother, Mustafa, is lost in the Six-Day War and the sisters, Alia and Widad, relocate to Kuwait while their mother, Salma, moves to Jordan. Later generations end up in France, America, and Lebanon. Alia, the young bride in 1963 in the first pages, is the family matriarch with Alzheimer’s as the book comes to a close. In 1977, her daughter, Souad, is a tantrum-throwing five-year-old in Kuwait City; by 1990, she is a student in Paris entering into an ill-considered marriage, then, 14 years later, a divorced mother of two, recently relocated from America to Beirut. Chapters focus on different family members as time and geography shift. These lives full of promise and loss will feel familiar to any reader; Alyan’s excellent storytelling and deft handling of the complex relationships ensures that readers will not soon forget the Yacoub family. (May)