...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.