Book Review for “No Land to Light On” by Yara Zgheib.
Summary: “Hadi and Sama are a young Syrian couple flying high on a whirlwind love, dreaming up a life in the country that brought them together. She had come to Boston years before chasing dreams of a bigger life; he’d landed there as a sponsored refugee from a bloody civil war. Now, they are giddily awaiting the birth of their son, a boy whose native language would be freedom and belonging. When Sama is five months pregnant, Hadi’s father dies suddenly in Jordan, the night before his visa appointment at the embassy. Hadi flies back for the funeral, promising his wife that he’ll only be gone for a few days. On the day his flight is due to arrive in Boston, Sama is waiting for him at the airport, eager to bring him back home. But as the minutes and then hours pass, she continues to wait, unaware that Hadi has been stopped at the border and detained for questioning, trapped in a timeless, nightmarish limbo. Worlds apart, suspended between hope and disillusion as hours become days become weeks, Sama and Hadi yearn for a way back to each other, and to the life they’d dreamed up together. But does that life exist anymore, or was it only an illusion?”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary, USA – Boston; Syria; Jordan; Other Categories: Novel, #OwnVoices, Diverse Authors.
Although I didn’t recognize it to begin with, the title of this novel is actually from a book by Michael Ondaatje, my favorite author! Well, finding that out put me totally on the right footing to read this book, and I must say, it is obvious that Zgheib is also a fan of Ondaatje, particularly because her writing style reminds me so much of his more poetic works. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not an imitation, because Zgheib has her own unique style, but there’s no doubt that Ondaatje was an influence. What I’m saying is, there was something about the mixture of descriptions together with parts that had telegraphically short sentences, that was mesmerizing to read, while still using deceptively simple language. I swear, if you could turn emotions into a liquid, and poured it out on paper, this is what would be the result!
Okay, so I’m being effusive here, but I should mention that I was a touch wary about this novel before I started reading it. This is probably because I’m Jewish and I live in Israel. I guess I worried that there would be anti-Israel sentiments here, or even some antisemitic bits, but there was none of that. In fact, what I did find, and could very much identify with, was the whole atrocious way that the previous US president (sorry, I refuse to use his name on my blog) and his immigration ban, appallingly effected tens of thousands of innocent people, particularly refugees. It made me ashamed to have a US passport when it happened, and this novel reminded me of that hideous time.
And yet, despite those dreadful events, this novel was still exquisite and heartwarming. The relationship between Hadi and Sama is carefully drawn so that none of it is every maudlin or saccharine. By this I mean that we see their flaws, as well as all the things they do that annoy the other. Together they’re both fun and serious, both romantic and infuriating. This is a truly three-dimensional depiction of what true love really is, and how these two navigate their ups and their downs – both together as a couple and as separate, independent personalities. Oh, and don’t worry about the smatterings of words in Arabic that Zgheib includes here. While I understood most of them (because Arabic is the 2nd language of Israel), those I didn’t get were pretty easy to figure out.
Furthermore, I adored how Zgheib made Sama an anthropologist who is studying bird migration. This ended up being a metaphor for how humans tend to search for refuge when faced with adversity. A few times in the book, Zgheib notes that when a flock of birds begin migrating, they don’t do it out of desire, or to be adventurous, but rather out of a basic need to leave one place in search of a better one, and that it can be painful for them to do so. It reminds us that when humans are forced to do that same thing, they’re not doing so without reservations and regrets; they often do so out of desperation, even with only the slimmest hopes that they’ll just survive.
Now, I could continue being effusive, but instead, I’m going back to my initial paragraph, because I wanted to add that much like with Ondaatje’s books, I found myself so engrossed with this story and so entranced by the beauty of the prose, that I found myself reading it in record time! (It is supposed to be just over 300 pages, which usually takes me about eight days to read, but I finished it in only three days. That’s short novella speed for this slow, dyslexic reader.) Finally, this book made me cry – and I mean ugly cried, more than once – and you know what that means; I cannot recommend this novel more wholeheartedly, and why I’m thrilled to give it a full five stars!
Atria Books – Simon & Schuster released “No Land to Light On” by Yara Zgheib on January 4, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank Maudee Genao from the publishers for giving me approval for the ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: NONE! Why? Because I finished reading this book in 2021, so I can’t include this in the New Release Challenge, which was the only one this would have qualified for! Never mind… I still loved it!