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Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

Beautiful and heartbreaking, Salt Houses tells of the blessings and troubles that family and personal identity bring. Alyan’s tale follows the Yacoubs, a Palestinian family who is continually forced to leave their homes in Jaffa, Nablus, Kuwait City, and Beirut as wars and the rising age of terrorism rage around them. Written from multiple points-of-view, the chapters bring together a fuller picture of the effects of the family’s struggles on their lives through the years.

Their relationships with each other move in constant flux with their changing circumstances; their environment continually pushes them together and pulls them apart. Alia, the fiery matriarch of the family, and Atef, her gentle-spirited husband, contain the two extremes of the family within their relationship, and each generation carries its own set of secrets and personal loyalties that threaten to tear them apart from each other. Each character is significantly flawed, but never to the point where you completely give up on them.

Salt Houses is set against the magnificent background of the Middle East and its tumultuous recent history, and the characters are imbued with genuine human spirit. This is not the heavy-handed, put-upon idea of an author with a Middle East obsession, but rather a gently descriptive tale that focuses on the people more than it does the fluctuating setting.

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