Salt Houses

Salt Houses (2017) by Hala Alyan is the 2018 winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for fiction. Pachinko was runner up and is also a MUST READ. Like Pachinko, it follows a family across generations and several displacements.

“Atef complains, as the rest of their friends do, of the influx of Americans and British, of the ways the “international” – primarily Western – schools have become mixed, teaching English and French just as vigorously as Arabic… And yet, when it came time to enroll the children in school, Atef fought with Alia to put them in one of those international schools.

“So they can share lunch with ajanib?” Alia had asked, She felt distaste toward the foreigners, found them greedy. “And learn their ABC’s? What for?”

Atef thought a while before replying. “There are sides,” he finally said, because he could think of no better way to put it. “And I want them to be on the right one.”

Salt Houses is a quick and meaningful read. I personally do not know as much about the history of my region as I should, so I like that it shed light on some of the conflicts and displacements in recent history that happened in the Palestine/Lebanon/Kuwait areas. It was beautifully written. The passage above sheds light on the love/hate relationship Arabs have with the English language and with the West. They resent treating the English language as a sign of progress, but they still end up treating it as somehow more valuable.

“Even if a person’s heritage was flimsy, unused for years, you were where your father was from”

I loved reading about characters who drink maramia and eat sunflower seeds. A lot of the topics hit near home including the brief comparison of how Arabs view heritage VS how heritage is treated in the West. It articulates something I’ve always known but never before thought to explain.

“She is starved for irridescence”

All the characters were lovable, and she manages to flesh them out in spite of not spending much time on each one.

“They glitter whitely in his mind, like structures made of salt, before a tidal wave comes and sweeps them away”

I love the moment in a book where the title suddenly clicks into place and everything makes sense. (Pachinko was a big moment for me too). In addition to what was written in the book, one of my friends provided me with additional insight – she believes that the reference also comes from the book “Cities of Salt” by Abdulrahman Mounif who alluded to the temporary and fragile state of salt structures.

I would definitely recommend adding this to your TBR.



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