Powerless to Hopeful: The Map of Salt and Stars Book Review by Zeyn Joukhadar


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.

A deep immersion into the richly varied cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, The Map of Salt and Stars follows the journeys of Nour and Rawiya as they travel along identical paths across the region eight hundred years apart, braving the unknown beside their companions as they are pulled by the promise of reaching home at last.

My Thoughts

The Map of Salt and Stars has been an emotional journey for me. There are two stories in this book: the story of Nour and the story of Rawiya. Nour lives in the modern times in Syria where the bombings occurred. Their home has been destroyed prompting her family to decide to leave and seek refuge elsewhere. Rawiya’s story happened hundreds of years earlier. Seeking to see the world, Rawiya disguised herself as a boy to join an expedition of a famous mapmaker.

I really admire Zeyn Joukhadar. He, not only, wrote one beautiful story but he wrote too. Both stories are undeniably compelling that you couldn’t stop yourself from reading. The stories, although unrelated, are somewhat parallel to each other. Rawiya’s story of journey and exploration became like a buffer to me. Nour’s story was real and raw and heartbreaking and at some points it becomes so heavy to read. The alternating chapters of Rawiya and Nour really helped with that.

I also really liked the characters. All characters seem fully realized. They have depth and complexities which is admirable given that there are many characters. I also love the complex relationships between the characters. Their interactions bring the characters to life.

The best part of the book for me is that it opened my eyes to what happened. I have read about the Syrian refugees in the news before but it didn’t even come close to the awareness I had after reading this book. And yet after reading about so much suffering, the book has left me with hope and motivation. I may be powerless now but I am hoping that someday I will have the power to help someone. I hope that someday I can help make the world a better place so that no child will ever have to grow up so soon again.

Overall, this book is a great read and I highly recommend this to everyone!



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