Salt Houses (Paperback)
Summer 2018 Reading Group Indie Next List
“Salt Houses pulls you into the fabric of the life of this Palestinian family and takes you through one tumultuous decade after another. I can rave about how important this book is for humanizing Muslims in a time of radical stereotyping, but it’s also just a damn good read. The draw of these people is irresistible! Every character is flawed, everyone is beautiful, each struggles with issues that are at times like those of any family, and at times unique to the social and cultural struggles of war-torn communities. Hala Alyan’s writing is infused with color and grace—a phenomenal fiction debut!”
— Katie Plumb, Country Bookshelf, Bozeman, MT
Winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Arab American Book Award
A Best Book of the Year: NPR • NYLON • Kirkus • Bustle • BookPage
"What does home mean when you no longer have a house—or a homeland? This beautiful novel traces one Palestinian family's struggle with that question and how it can haunt generations. . . . This is an example of how fiction is often the best filter for the real world around us." — NPR
Lyrical and heartbreaking, Salt Houses follows three generations of a Palestinian family and asks us to confront that most devastating of all truths: you can’t go home again.
On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s future in a cup of coffee dregs. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967.
Salma is forced to leave her home in Nablus; Alia’s brother gets pulled into a politically militarized world he can’t escape; and Alia and her gentle-spirited husband move to Kuwait City, where they reluctantly build a life with their three children. When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990, Alia and her family once again lose their home and their land, scattering to Beirut, Paris, Boston, and beyond. Soon Alia’s children begin families of their own, once again navigating the burdens (and blessings) of assimilation in foreign cities.
Salt Houses is a remarkable debut novel that challenges and humanizes an age-old conflict we might think we understand.
Hala Alyan is the author of the novel Salt Houses, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Arab American Book Award, and a finalist for the Chautauqua Prize. Her latest novel, The Arsonists’ City, was a finalist for the Aspen Words Literary Prize. She is also the author of five highly acclaimed collections of poetry, including The Twenty-Ninth Year. Her work has been published by The New Yorker, The Academy of American Poets, Literary Hub, The New York Times Book Review, and Guernica. She lives in Brooklyn with her family, where she works as a clinical psychologist and professor at New York University.
Winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize* Fiction Winner of the Arab American Book Award * A Finalist for the Chautauqua Prize * Longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize * An NPR Best Book of 2017* One of NYLON's Best Fiction Books of 2017 * One of Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2017 * One of Bustle's 17 Best Fiction Books of 2017 * One of BookPage's Best Books of 2017 * An Indie Next Pick —
“Moving and beautifully written, Alyan’s debut chronicles three generations of a Palestinian family as they face two life-altering displacements – the first after 1967’s Six-Day War, and the second following Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.” — Entertainment Weekly
“Spring's most powerful novel...mystical, compelling...sweeping.” — Town & Country
"[Salt Houses] illustrate[s] the inherited longing and sense of dislocation passed like a baton from mother to daughter." — New York Times Book Review
“Some family stories we pass on, adding chapters like rooms to a house; others are burned into our subconscious. Poet Hala Alyan's ambitious debut novel, Salt Houses follows the scattered generations of one Palestinian family for whom 'nostalgia is an affliction,' moving from the Six-Day War and a future glimpsed in a daughter's lipsticked coffee cup, to 9/11 and its aftermath.” — Vogue
“Alyan is doing important work through this novel...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.” — Los Angeles Review of Books
"What does home mean when you no longer have a house – or a homeland? This beautiful novel traces one Palestinian family's struggle with that question and how it can haunt generations. Hala Alyan's own family history – for years, she felt as if she belonged nowhere – clearly informed her book, but her professional life as a clinical psychologist who has worked with refugee clients plays a part too. Along with another favorite from this year – Mohsin Hamid's Exit West – this is an example of how fiction is often the best filter for the real world around us." — NPR
"Read Salt Houses...In Hala Alyan's novel about a Palestinian family in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, children rebel and return and the matriarch's memories fade with age, fraying the brood's ties to their homeland. In the process, the book reveals the inner lives of people too often lumped together in the service of politics." — New York
"Alyan explores the human agency in the face of the harshest realities without compromising the complex nature of the Palestinian diaspora. This is a heart-wrenching, intimate look at the intergenerational impact of losing a homeland." — Ms. magazine
"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...Heart-wrenching, lyrical and timely, Salt Houses is a humanizing examination of a family torn apart and remade by conflicts both too complex to grasp fully and too personal to not recognize in ourselves, wherever we might call home." — Dallas Morning News
"What happens when displacement enters your DNA? This is the questions that Alyan's brilliant debut novel both poses and answers, and—to borrow a heavily used phrase—it feels like one we particularly need to be asking ourselves right now...[Alyan is] an extraordinarily gifted novelist...[Salt Houses is] an epic in every sense of the word...[It] shines in its intimate details; notably, in the ways in which no character is allowed to be a stereotype, and in the way it grapples with those all too human-scaled experiences of alienation and belonging, displacement and rebuilding. Alyan might be grappling with universal problems like war and brutality, but since she renders them through the perspective of one family, through their personal triumphs and struggles, she keeps these issues on a recognizable scale." — NYLON, Best Fiction Books
"Each new chapter of Salt Houses shifts perspective and jumps in time...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 is also a poet, and the last pages of Salt Houses drop like the end of a poem—they crush the reader while also lifting her up...Narratives like this one complicate and humanize America’s simplistic view of Arab cultures, toppling the flimsy idea that Arab people are intractably Other." — The Rumpus
“In her debut novel, Alyan tells the story of a Palestinian family that is uprooted by the Six-Day War of 1967 and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. This heartbreaking and important story examines displacement, belonging, and family in a lyrical style.” — The Millions, “Most Anticipated"
“At the very start of Hala Alyan's novel Salt Houses, a woman buys a coffee set — a dozen cups, a coffee pot, a tray. It's a simple act that unexpectedly becomes painful . . . Alyan builds her story on little moments like that — a peek into the lives of several generations, forced to relocate and resettle. Her characters are lost and looking for a home.” — NPR, "Morning Edition"
“This sweeping family drama brings history to life by imagining events that befall a Palestinian family from 1963 to 2014. Buffeted by war and political turmoil — the Six-Day War in 1967, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 — the family is constantly uprooted, forcing its members to adopt new cultures in Paris, Beirut and Boston. It's a lyrical exploration of identity.” — AARP
“Stunning...[Salt Houses] offers such a piercing examination of displacement, identity, faith, and what one character refers to as a lifetime of 'emotional code-switching.'” — Brooklyn Magazine