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.
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.
What makes As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow such a special story is that it shows us a fuller picture of the experience of Syrian refugees. As an American, my deepest understanding is full of images of people of all ages washing up on to shores, risking it all to travel across oceans on small boats that often don't make it to their destination. Katouh shows us one young woman's story outside of those images. We get context and understanding. People are leaving entire lives, beauty, love behind. They are bringing with them fear, loss, grief, pain, and love. When they arrive, it is with regret, suffering, exhaustion, and love.
At the core of everything that happens to Salama in this novel, LOVE is at the core. Her love for her beautiful Syria, for her family, for herself, for her people, and for Kenan.
Lastly, Lemon Trees explores the impact of trauma/PTSD on the psyche in a VERY unique way. The embodiment of Khwaf was fascinating to read.
My Recommendation? This is an absolute favorite, current obsession, and a book that I feel everyone needs to read.
Content Warnings: War, Violence, Sexual Assault/Attempted Rape (on page), Death of a Parent, Mental Health