Book Review – As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh
I don’t even know where to begin with this one…
Despite me finishing the book months ago, I genuinely needed all this time to process the weight of this book and how much I freakin’ loved it.
Beyond being able to relate to bits of it (coming from immigrant parents who fled a war, faith, and language)… I was still in absolute awe at how Zoulfa, the author, managed to really grasp the terrors of war beyond the physical, to the mental and spiritual as well. It left me haunted every single time I put the book down to catch my breath.
I had several moments when the tears wouldn’t stop and the future that the characters had envisioned for themselves burned hard and true that I couldn’t bear reading their words for more than a second at a time. No really, my poor hubby was watching me with grave concern from the other side of the couch as I would lift the book up, read a sentence, tear up, put it down, only to lift it up again because that’s how intriguing it was. Fear, love, family, faith, passion, and war… laid out so plainly yet so achingly harsh.
And OMG, the halal romance…. I lived and breathed, and died. The romance in this…. ahhhh I could not keep myself from being giddy every single time there was any interactions between Salama and Kenan.
But the one part of it that really got me sobbing was the message of hope… I do not know what it is for everyone else, but for me the idea of hope woven into a story so eloquently makes my soul fight to keep it alive. Whatever that may look like in my life, I have learned that hope can drive you out of any darkness. And this book shows that through every flip of the page.
I truly loved every single word from this book. It reminded me why I love reading and writing. Lately, books like that have been too far and few in between.
I would like to add, the book definitely has some trigger warnings.
Trigger Warnings: war, violence, SA, parental deaths, murder, gore, child abuse, torture, starvation, ptsd, grief, hallucinations.
Note: this is a non-spoilery review
Taking place in the heart of the Syrian Revolution, Salama works at a hospital volunteering to help those affected by the raging war they have somehow grown accustom to over the last year.
Prior, Salama was a pharmacy student who was living in her home, with her family and a calm sense of peace she now craves.
It all quickly went away, as the cries of the revolution came. Now, she is haunted by Khwaf, a figment of her imagination, while trying to care for Layla her pregnant sister in law. With everything in her screaming to leave Syria and go to safety, she is torn as she meets someone new. Someone real who in another life, on another day, might have been the one for her.
Salama must figure out truth from fiction and which she favours more…. loyalty or survival.
She was a character that you could not help but feel for. The way she was written, made you feel her triumphs and fears alongside her. She was also the most honest portrayal of a human being having lost everything – including their mind- and make the tough hard morally conflicting decisions while feeling the aftermath of it.
Salama was an inspiration in her strength but also in her weakness, a true heroine if there was one.
I loved Layla so much! She was that character that really felt like a ray of sunshine throughout the book, especially in hard times with Salama. Her energy was so contagious. Her view on the world, despite the horrible things happening around them, was hope in and of itself.
I thought she was also another great representation of a strong woman, doing as much on her own when the world hasn’t been too kind to her.
Without spoiling anything, my heart was ripped out of me as I continued to read about Layla and all she had endured.
I know Khwaf was in some ways a villain all on his own, but it was the first time I didn’t find any redeeming qualities in a villain or even root for them in the same ways.
Khwaf to me was what I feel like an embodiment of anxiety is. For someone who suffers from that, I felt his presence all too much. It was a refreshing character to see in young adult fiction for sure, and a character I was surprised to find myself relating to.
OMG my little cinnamon bun… he was too kind for that world of pain tbh… but he was also the best character to have in those kinds of moments. When I tell you that this man had my heart upon the second he entered the page, I am not exaggerating. He was such a true interesting character of what a person with so much responsibility can carry… and through it all he was kind. It is rare to see that type of personality in fiction because the automatic, if you went through what he went through, is a bitter person. The whole nature of this book is war and pain but Kenan was a character that saw that and still… he held hope and in our lives we need people like that. We either have to find ways to be that for others when they need it, but also recognize those who can be that way for us when we eventually need it too.
The book takes place in modern day, in Syria specifically Homs. I loved the description of the way it was prior to the war and the hustle and bustle of it. It reminded me of visiting my parent’s home country all those summers ago. The life, the language, the ease of things at times.
On the other hand, the description of it during war times was heart wrenching. It is sometimes easy to fall into media interpretations of places you do not know, or even forget that stuff like this goes on when living so far from it. The representation here was authentic, true, and a cold reminder of what horrors the world carries on a daily.
Those who have suffered or seen this know that you can never truly forget and it was shown throughout the book how people seem to shy away from harsh truths if they do not like what they see.
As you can figure out from the way I am raving about this book, it was a pure pleasure to read. It definitely left it’s mark on me.
More so, it was incredible to see an author dive into their culture (a little biased here since it is similar to mine) and showcase diversity in a way that made you think, wonder, and read on.
📜 Plot: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
🧙🏼♂️ Characters: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
❤️ Romance: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
🧕 Diversity: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Please let me know if you have read this book! What were your thoughts?!