Zeynab Joukhadar: The Map of Salt and Stars

“People don’t get lost on the outside. They get lost on the inside. Why are there no maps of that?”

“If you don’t know the tale of where you come from, the words of others can overwhelm and drown out your own. So, you see, you must keep careful track of the borders of your stories, where your voice ends and another’s begins.”

“Things change too much. We’ve always got to fix the maps, repaint the borders of ourselves.”

“He motioned to the shelves of books, their spines polished gold, tawny brown, and russet leather. “Anyone who wants companionship and knowledge will find what they seek here,” he said. “We are among friends.”

“People think that stories can be walled off, kept outside and separate. They can’t. Stories are inside of you.”

“Then stories map the soul,” Rawiya said, “in the guise of words.”

“Don’t forget, stories ease the pain of living, not dying.”

“Their broken places remind me of how contagious pain is.”

“Is pain poisonous?”

“But the top of my head is pulsing, and my fingers are trembling, and in my head I am counting the broken families I have seen. I am counting the missing fathers and the buried brothers, giving form and breath to those who were left behind…”

“Wealth is no substitute for belonging.”

“Is the world nothing more than a collection of senseless hurts waiting to happen, one long cut waiting to bleed?”

* * *

There are books that are intellectually satisfying, and then there are those that pierce your heart to the core and put your anxieties and problems into perspective. These two belong to the latter. Reading Ahdaf Soueif’s and Elif Shafak’s cerebral women prior to this did not make the 12-year-old narrator seem less profound. In true Arabian Nights fashion, which I find brilliant, this has a story within a story; but these books are, indeed, a starting point for empathy and education on the Syrian refugee crisis.

The Iranian’s remark to the Turkish in Three Daughters of Eve kept playing in my mind, “Lucky you! If you are homesick, it means you have a home somewhere.”

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