As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh
Summary: Salama Kassab was a pharmacy student when the cries for freedom broke out in Syria. She still had her parents and her big brother; she still had her home. She had a normal teenager’s life.
Now Salama volunteers at a hospital in Homs, helping the wounded who flood through the doors daily. Secretly, though, she is desperate to find a way out of her beloved country before her sister-in-law, Layla, gives birth. So desperate, that she has manifested a physical embodiment of her fear in the form of her imagined companion, Khawf, who haunts her every move in an effort to keep her safe.
But even with Khawf pressing her to leave, Salama is torn between her loyalty to her country and her conviction to survive. Salama must contend with bullets and bombs, military assaults, and her shifting sense of morality before she might finally breathe free. And when she crosses paths with the boy she was supposed to meet one fateful day, she starts to doubt her resolve in leaving home at all.
Soon, Salama must learn to see the events around her for what they truly are—not a war, but a revolution—and decide how she, too, will cry for Syria’s freedom.
My Thoughts: Salama’s story is heartbreaking to say the least. There is also hope, but this book is an emotional one and is not easy to read. I loved the cover art and the yellow really had me going in with the idea that there would be war, but that somehow it would have light moments. I’ll try not to spoil anything, but Salama’s path is almost impossible and it’s painful to watch her suffer loss after loss. Sometimes it’s hard to see any way for things to get better.
I was not very familiar with the Syrian Revolution beyond the fact that there was an uprising and followed by many years of fighting. I appreciate publishers who are seeking out stories like this so people can see themselves in the pages, but also, so that we who are unaware, can learn more about what is happening in the world. We often see the physical toll that war is having on the people and the structures during a war, but here, through Salama, we see the mental toll that it can cause. Her grief, shock, and exhaustion just continue to build and her mind finds creative ways to cope.
Through it all, Salama’s love for her country and her family shine through. She has lost so much, but she still has a deep attachment to the place and people. Though there is a lot of sadness within these pages, there is also a well of love.
My Recommendation: Get it soon. This is a meaningful book that may bring readers to tears, but will also remind people of the strength that people can show in the midst of trauma and tragedy.
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Review copy: ARC via publisher
Availability: On shelves now