As Long As The Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh (400 pages)
Torn Between Loyalty To Your Country And The Need To Survive is the Theme in As Long As The Lemon Trees Grow
As a college student, Salama was in the midst of fulfilling her dreams of becoming a pharmacist when war broke out in Syria. Her life is put on hold as she volunteers at her local hospital tending to victims of war. Despite knowing that her assistance is needed as resources are depleting and doctors are lacking, Salama is secretly hoping to escape and find safety outside her beloved country. She gets increasingly desperate as her best friend and sister-in-law’s pregnancy progresses.
When Khawf, the physical manifestation of her PTSD, pressures her into finding a solution to her increasingly dire situation, Salama’s panic continues to rise. Her dilemma is heightened when she meets Kenan, and begins to doubt if an escape from home is the answer to her problems. Salama has to quickly decide on the fate of her life and the ones she loves, and whether leaving is the right course of action after all.
“They Don’t Know What A Gem [Syria] is”- Zoulfa Katouh
This was an extremely difficult book to read, not because of the storyline or storytelling. On the contrary, those are executed beautifully. It is because this is an unbelievably tragic story. Most novels that are centred around war are devastating by nature; however, this felt especially so because it is not all historic – Syria’s struggles are current and Salama’s life, while fictional, is a reality for youth in Syria today. Their childhood is crumpled like the rubble they live on, and they are forced to grow up too fast. The psychological trauma as described in this novel has such tremendous impacts, it opened my eyes to the reality of what a war torn country looks like for the youth. Zoulfa Katouh does not shy away from painting a realistic and yet horrific image in a reader’s minds. It made me terribly uncomfortable, and yet I commend and applaud her for doing so. These feelings are stirred by powerful words and compelling storytelling, and Katouh deserves all the credit for it.
The underlying message is to find hope when none can be found, and it is clear from her writing that Katouh is trying to weave this point into every scene–no matter how tragic. Determination, perseverance, and resilience are what keep her characters alive. Despite knowing that, I could not help but feel constant sorrow too. The sweet romance between Salama and Kenan, however, is a warm and welcome respite from the horrors of everything else, and I really enjoyed the tender moments they shared amidst all the chaos.
The Bottom Line: 4.5/5 stars
As Long As The Lemon Trees Grow had been recommended a number of times, and many other reviewers on Bookstagram talked about it with high praise. I was expecting to enjoy it, but I did not realise it would be so moving and so tragic–-nothing prepared me for that. I loved the book, but I was also left with feelings of sorrow and moroseness. This is not a negative reflection of the novel, but rather a warning to readers to be in the right mindset when embarking on this journey. I recommend reading trigger warnings for this book first.
Fans of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, this book will speak to you in the same profound magnitude. I am very proud of Katouh for writing this story and representing her Syrian heritage. I cannot believe that it’s a debut novel, and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
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Maiya Alismaili is a 34 year old bookacholic who currently resides in Ottawa. With a background in Human Resources and Psychology, you will often find her people watching. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she will likely be exploring the town for new bookstores, rewatching Gilmore Girls, or cleaning to 80s music.
Favorite Book: A Fine Balance By Rohinton Mistry
Favorite Brunch Spot: Cafe Cristal