...this is not a novel of refugees, of tent cities or starvation. Instead, it is a novel that examines the middle class and the very real pain that the loss of home has even on the privileged ... In many ways, then, this is a novel about privilege. Alyan takes groups we often see as disadvantaged, demonstrates their advantages, but shows us that privilege is still relative, and that trauma can still be experienced within such constructs ... Alyan is doing important work through this novel, even without the discussion of these deeper meanings. Thus, Salt Houses can be read very simply as a family drama, proving Alyan’s talent as a master of both the family drama genre as well as the depths and complexities of the Palestinian displacement.
Each chapter offers a crystalline glimpse into a different character’s life, their stories jarringly redirected by the conflicts in the Middle East. Alyan uses deft storytelling to show that the way the characters’ relatives see them does not always match the view from their own eyes. Each of those points of view offers insight into the clashes and misunderstandings that arise between the generations, aggravated by the tension between tradition and modernity. This is a moving story about a family’s battle to salvage what remains when their home is taken away.
The story revolves around eight main characters and each chapter focuses on one of them. Alyan tries to develop each and every character as the story goes by, but her attempt is not successful. Characters seem unripe and even though they are involved in interesting actual events, it’s difficult to feel connected to them as they remain fictional. However, Alyan is a skilled storyteller which makes her debut a pleasant read. She is able to string along the reader through the book and keep the reader interested.
[Alyan’s] book covers four generations of the Yacoub family, starting in 1963 and ending in the present, each chapter from a different perspective. If this sometimes makes the book feel scattered, more like a series of connected set pieces, the long duration has the advantage of illustrating the inherited longing and sense of dislocation passed like a baton from mother to daughter … Only when she goes to Jaffa does she have a cathartic evening that ends with her writing the names of her family members on the wet sand, then watching them quickly erased.
...gorgeous and sprawling … In many ways, Salt Houses is about the displacement of millions in war-ravaged lands. But more precisely, it's about the significance of ‘home’— what it means to make a home, to lose it, and to go home again when nothing looks or feels the same. Each generation of Alia's family remembers their birthplaces with fondness, even as their parents, forced from their own places of birth, resent the cities they move to.
This gentle telling of a raucous history—jostled by its many personalities and much geopolitical discord—begins in March of 1963 with the family’s matriarch, Salma, in Nablus, a city in the area presently known as the West Bank … The book moves forward in time and across space, reaching all the way to Salma’s pregnant great-granddaughter Manar in 2014, in Jaffa. These perspectives touch back on each other through small details, fashioning a collective, familial history. One character’s revelations illuminate the life of another … Alyan’s talent is immediately apparent in her exquisitely detailed scenes and the complex ways her characters relate to one another.
Alyan blends joy with pain, frustration with elation, longing with boredom in this beautiful debut novel filled with the panoply of life ... 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.