United Talent Agency

Elise Bellin, Librarian of the Islamic Resource Center, wrote this book review as part of an ongoing series that focuses on a range of books within the IRC collection as a service to the community.

The Map of Salt and Stars

written by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar © 2019– ISBN:9781501169038

Maps shape our world. They give us a sense of what is ours, what is other. They tell the reader what is important, what can be ignored. They give boundaries and borders to our lives and fill us with the contours that define us. Map makers have often been both an integral and overlooked profession. Is it any wonder that there is something of a mystique to the art?

In The Map of Salt and Stars, we are given the map of two lives, hundreds of years apart. In modern day New York, an immigrant family is overcome with grief over the loss of its patriarch and, in a desperate search for the boundary of their grief, they return to Homs, Syria, following their mapmaking mother to where they have family and the support in the “hot and rainless” country dries our main character’s, Nour, tears.

Meanwhile, centuries earlier, another young woman, Rawiya, runs away from her Syrian village to seek out the legendary mapmaker, Al-Idrisi, whom she joins as his apprentice. Along the way, they discover mythical beasts and fight epic battles. It is a story Nour’s father told her countless times and never ceased to fascinate and bring her comfort.

The two stories intertwine as bombings and violence force Nour’s family to abandon Syria and seek refuge across the Middle East, just as Rawiya’s journeys take her to similar ports of call mapping out trade routes and the known world. As the dangers increase, both find refuge in cutting their hair and disguising themselves as boys. Both are growing up in a dangerous world, learning to trust their own voice and, in extension, finding their place on the map.

The Map of Salt and Stars is a beautiful, though heart-rending, story of two girls in perilous situations. It is gently written; sometimes seeming somewhat dreamlike in the execution of the more horrifying moments and never once mentioning who the warring parties are in Syria in the here and now.

Founded in 2010, the Islamic Resource Center (IRC) is the first Islamic public lending library in Wisconsin. The IRC aims to provide resources to educators, students, health professionals, interfaith groups, and any members of the Milwaukee community that want an accurate understanding of the Islamic faith, its practices, and its people.