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The Map of Salt and Stars

Narrated by: Lara Sawalha
Length: 12 hrs and 17 mins
4 out of 5 stars (12 ratings)

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Summary

Nour is a young Syrian girl who has lost her father to cancer. Wanting to be close to her relatives, Nour's mother - a cartographer who makes beautiful hand-painted maps - moves her family back to the city of Homs. Nour's father was a real storyteller, and he told her that the roots of the trees connect to the ground across the world. She knows they left her father in the ground back in America, so she starts telling him the ancient fable of Rawiya, whispering it into the ground so he might hear. 

Rawiya left her home dressed as a boy in order to explore the world. She became apprenticed to Al Idrisi, who was a famous cartographer tasked by King Roger II of Sicily to make the first map of the world. Together with Al Idrisi, Rawiya travelled the globe, encountering adventures - including the mythical Roc and a battle in the Valley of Snakes - along the way. It is this story that gives Nour the courage to keep going when she has to leave Homs after it is bombed and faces a long journey as a refugee in search of a new home - a journey that closely mirrors that of Rawiya many centuries before. 

When Nour and her sister are forced to part from their mother, she gives them a special map that contains clues that will lead them to safety. The two stories are beautifully told and interwoven, the real interspersed with the magical/imagined so that the overall effect is uplifting - about the strength of the human spirit, the strength of women in particular, the power of a journey and what it takes to find a home.

©2018 Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar (P)2018 Orion Publishing Group

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Extraordinary, broad-reaching and beautiful book

This book is a rich and moving tapestry of Syrian life ancient and modern. With a clever juxtaposition of the voices of a present-day and medieval heroine, through its alternating chapters it celebrates culture, history, identity and mourns the tragedy of contemporary Syria. One of our heroines is an adventurer at the dawn of the civilised world. The other, sadly, is a survivor at what is arguably the end of it. Both are wonderful, inspiring characters. While reading this book, you will need to put it down now and then, because your eyes will blur. You weep not just at the horror of war, for the loss of happiness - evocative passages that present a peaceful Syrian family life. The author depicts the everyday in vivid, glorious prose that bring her story to life - smells and sounds and sights of it all. I would particularly recommend this book for young women, it would make an excellent gift for a niece or daughter. But read it yourself first. Weep. Enjoy. Bravo Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. With praising the text, mention also has to be made of the fine, varied and lively reading performance by Lara Sawalha. The breadth of her voice delivery is always impressive, with accents and intonation all a joy to listen to.

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Gibberish. Absolutely awful.

This book was not for me.

I didn’t really “get” it? Persisting til the end did not pay off and at no point was I engaged. I have no idea what the author was trying to achieve. I just did not get it. I found the narration style unbearably irritating which didn’t help (sorry Lara Sawalha). The whole thing read like a 12 year old’s bedtime story.

Too often I felt like the author was writing in gibberish. She obviously has an obsession with colours and loves to be overdescriptive, like she was trying too hard to be creative, thrashing the use of similes which was rather cringeworthy (and which didn’t actually add anything to the book).

Was not a fan of the dual storylines, not just because it almost doubled the length of the book (and I couldn’t wait to get to the end), but because listening to the audiobook made it difficult to work out when the author was switching between the two.

I was hoping to learn about Middle Eastern culture and the Syrian crisis but instead was subjected to 2x sugar-coated fictional versions of a teenaged Syrian girl’s “adventure”. Too many plot points left me with unanswered questions while too many others were overexplained.

I was too distracted by the nonsense writing style to engage or sympathise with any of the characters. I was rarely intrigued by the plot and was so uninterested in what came next that I would have put it down after 2 pages, had I not needed to finish it for my book club.

£9 and 12 hours of my life I’ll never get back.