Nour has already been uprooted with her family from New York to Syria, after the death of her beloved father. It has been hard to feel grounded, not to feel out of place, as she’s struggled to learn the language that comes so easily to her older sisters who had the advantage of having been born there. When disaster strikes, however, they must leave once again, and Nour must find the strength to search for the place she will ultimately call home, as well as determine who she really is. What guides and inspires Nour is her memory of the fantastical legend of Rawiya, who sets out to study the art of mapmaking, facing her own challenges and adventures.
It is stories like this one that brings the migrant crisis to a human level. We might read about thousands of people crossing deserts, oceans, and barbed-wired borders in search of freedom or safety, and it might be hard for us to connect to these realities. But when we come to know a 12-year-old girl, with 2 older sisters, who has painful memories of her deceased father, who feels out of place and awkward and is stuck in her own dreams and her father’s stories, we connect with her. And when she travels we travel and when she is in danger, we are in danger. And it’s hard and it hurts – and that makes it human. And that is the power of fiction – it makes things real.
What works in the novel is the simultaneous tale of Rawiya,. It serves as an emotional release from the intensity of Nour’s journey- almost a literary breath, if you will. More than that, though, it gives an opportunity to highlight the mystical and historic richness of the lands through which Nour is traversing. These lands of Arabia are vibrant and full of legend, and the story brings this to light.
Again, this is hard to read, but it is poetically written, colorful and imaginative. A journey of its own.