The Map of Salt and Stars
By: Jennifer Seynab Joukhadar
# of pages: 361
Challenges: What’s in a Name (both “of” AND “and”), A to Z, Monthly Motif (cover love), Book Bingo (chose because of cover)
Quote: “People make such beautiful things, I think, even though they destroy so much.”
The story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker.
It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.
More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.
Review: I’ll be honest, I chose to read this book based on the cover and the title. I’m a geographer (majored in geography with a concentration in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). My dad is also a geographer as is my husband. So needless to say, anything to do with maps catches my attention!
This book is hard to review. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and enlightening, but I also felt it was a little over-the-top as far as cliches and being oversentimental. For some reason it fell a little flat for me, but at the same time, I appreciated it and think it was an important read. Something I haven’t figured out yet is that there’s a paragraph in the book where the mom talks about Straight Street in Damascus and how it’s mentioned in the Bible. I didn’t have any recollection of this although it’s possible I’ve read that passage of the Bible. The day after I finished this book I went to a church service and the sermon was about this same passage of the Bible. Straight Street and all. So I feel like it’s significant, but I don’t know how yet.
Sorry to get personal on my blog and mention religion, but I can’t get it out of my head. This isn’t a religious book although Muslim traditions are mentioned here and there. It’s also mentioned how the main character, Nour, was raised both Catholic and Muslim. For the most part the religious aspects are just generally mentioned, but that’s one reason why I found this “coincidence” in my life even more profound.
The book is about a girl, Nour, who was born in New York. After her father’s death her mom, a mapmaker, moved her and her two sisters back to their original home in Syria. Unfortunately their arrival takes place just before the violence in Syria erupts. Nour and her family become refugees, just like the ones we’ve been hearing about on the news in the U.S. over the past few years. As Nour’s family travels from place to place they meet new friends and encounter both dangers and wonders.
Nour’s story intertwines with the story of Rawiya, a young woman in the 1100s who is apprenticed to a mapmaker and goes on a journey to discover and record new places. Not only does she discover new places, she makes friends and is forced to confront many dangers.
Overall, I recommend this book to both adults and mature young adults. There is an intense part that may trigger victims of sexual assault. I now want to learn more about the conflict in Syria. This story is a great way to enable readers to “walk” in a refugee’s shoes.
Why I gave this book 3/5 stars: Important story, beautifully written, seemed a little “empty” to me for some reason.