Hala Alyan is a Palestinian-American writer and psychologist. Her poetry collection ATRIUM was awarded the 2013 Arab American Book Award in Poetry. Salt Houses is her debut novel.
The reader travels with the Yacoub family through six generations. From 1964 to 2014. The story begins with a series of predictions for Alia and her children; which includes a restless life but also travel and luck. Alia’s mother Salma, does not share these predictions with her daughter till the family’s fate is changed during the Six-Day War also known as the June War in 1967.
Salma is forced to leave her home; Alia’s brothers get pulled into completely different directions. “I was curious about what it would be like to be a young man in that moment, living in what is now the West Bank,” Alyan tells Bustle. “And I kind of just fell in love with his sister and his mother… I sort of felt like I knew something they didn’t know, which is that they were going to lose their house in a few years, and they were going to have to leave in a few years, and just felt very compelled to follow that line. I wanted to know what came before, how they got to that, and I wanted to know what happened afterward.”
The story then moves forward with feisty Alia and her gentle-spirited husband as they move to Kuwait City, with their three children. When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990, Alia and her family once again pack their belongings and move to different continents. Their oldest daughter moves with Alia and her husband to Jordan. The others move to various parts of the world – Paris, Beirut and even as far as Boston. The family’s journey, connected as well as estranged relationships all poetically unfold in this novel.
“She still loves him. This is the fact she wakes up to each morning. She checks it, sometimes, a tongue probing an aching tooth, making sure it still hurts.”
Alyan drawing from her own life and experiences writes a lyrical and authentic novel that brings the Yacoub family right into your living room.