10 Sep / The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar [in Library Journal]
Two interwoven stories illuminate and haunt here, both about fatherless girls attached to mapmakers, each blurring gender lines, both enduring peripatetic, precarious journeys to reach family and safety.
Twelve-year-old Nour commands her contemporary story – Manhattan-born, father lost to cancer, taken to Syria with two sisters by their cartographer mother who believes single parenthood will be more bearable surrounded by relatives. When bombs destroy their home, the family flee, becoming desperate refugees. Nour’s newly boyish visage, the result of a lice-induced head shave, becomes a protective disguise while on the run.
Almost nine centuries earlier, 16-year-old Rawiya (whose adventure was Nour’s father’s favorite) left her widowed mother – in order to support her – and, disguised as a youth, apprenticed herself to (real-life) mapmaker al-Idrisi on his voyage to chart the world.
Both girls crisscross the Middle East and North Africa, their routes often parallel. Similarities certainly abound, but Lara Sawalha should have more effectively distinguished the dual heroines’ voices.
Verdict: Already a bestseller often described as the “Syrian Kite Runner,” Joukhadar’s urgent, timely debut will undoubtedly garner demand across all formats.