Salama Kassab was a pharmacy student when the cries for freedom broke out in Syria. She still had her parents and her big brother; she still had her home. She had a normal teenager’s life.
Now Salama volunteers at a hospital in Homs, helping the wounded who flood through the doors daily. Secretly, though, she is desperate to find a way out of her beloved country before her sister-in-law, Layla, gives birth. So desperate, that she has manifested a physical embodiment of her fear in the form of her imagined companion, Khawf, who haunts her every move in an effort to keep her safe.
But even with Khawf pressing her to leave, Salama is torn between her loyalty to her country and her conviction to survive. Salama must contend with bullets and bombs, military assaults, and her shifting sense of morality before she might finally breathe free. And when she crosses paths with the boy she was supposed to meet one fateful day, she starts to doubt her resolve in leaving home at all.
Soon, Salama must learn to see the events around her for what they truly are—not a war, but a revolution—and decide how she, too, will cry for Syria’s freedom.
All the stars, all the tears and all the rage.
The plot in a nutshell:
Salama Kassab had just finished her first year as a pharmacy student when the revolution began in Syria.
Her father and brother were soon imprisoned, tortured somewhere. Her mother died in a bombing. And now, every day, Salama goes working at the hospital, learning to practice surgery, sew wounds, with barely any medicine available and on an empty stomach.
Syria is her home, she wants to fight for it, she wants to stay.
But dealing with PTSD, her fear has taken a life of its own, materializing a man, Khawf, who is pushing Salama to flee Syria and take with her Layla, her pregnant sister in law and best friend.
Salama is torn between her duty to her country and her promise to her brother to protect Layla. Meeting Keenan, a young man that she was fated to meet does not help her to leave everything behind, even if the living conditions are appalling and danger everywhere.
It’s not customary for me but I will use part of the author’s review to build my own.
First, Zoulfa Kathou said: “ Even though everything written in the book has been documented and reported on the news and the internet for more than ten years, not a lot of people know what’s going on. Which is why I wanted to make it into a story. In the end, that’s what human life is; stories.”
This is exactly what that book did for me: open my eyes!
Of course I had heard of the Syrian revolution alongside the Arab Spring in 2011 but I had no idea what truly hid behind these words! To me, it happened to Syrian people. When you listen to it on the news, they are a mass of faceless individuals. You vaguely get that it’s tragic but… And then, your read that book.
And it’s like a sucker punch. Because you see individuals. You follow some characters. And what happens to them, happens to you while reading.
This is why words matter. Why stories are so important.
Then Zoulfa also said: “It’s going to be a difficult book to read. Hopefully, you’ll cry, but at times you will laugh, you will awww and if I’m really lucky, you’ll throw it against the wall. If you do do that, drop me a message and tell me because then I would know I have done good. That I wrote a good book that gave you strong feelings.”
And I can assure you that I felt EVERYTHING! I couldn’t stop crying big fat tears, sobbing even, when I was listening to it in my car or on my walks.
And it was so much that I wanted to stop. Stop listening, stop being destroyed. And yet, I couldn’t. Because if we don’t listen to the stories, if we avert our gaze, things will never change. I was so afraid of what could happen as it was horror after horror, ordeal after ordeal, shocking revelations that left my head spinning that I had to peek at the last pages. Something I haven’t done in many years.
But I HAD to know, to prepare myself mentally.
And lastly, Zoulfa wrote: “ But in the end, ultimately, I hope you close this book with a newfound sense of hope. With a fire burning in your heart that ‘yes, I will change the world’ because this world is waiting for you.”
And somehow I saw the hope in the book but that was the hardest part for me: to grab onto that hope and not let go.
What is certain too is that I’ll never look at refugee the same. I know the question of immigration is a complex one but this book sure did peel some of its layers to me!
I also have to add that Rasha Zamamiri did an extraordinary job narrating that book.
If you want to learn about Syrian revolution, if you want to learn about refugees, if you are not afraid to have your soul crushed, please read this book. But have a truckload of tissues at the ready.
Thanks for reading.