Wednesday 5 January 2022

#bookreview: No Land to Light On | Yara Zgheib

No Land to Light OnNo Land to Light On by Yara Zgheib
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sama Zayat is at the Boston airport on January 28, 2017 waiting for her husband, Hadi, to return from his father's funeral in Amman. But he doesn't emerge, and the inexplicable mob crushes her, leading to the premature birth of her firstborn.
Hadi Deeb is stuck in a nightmare, detained at the airport for reasons unknown, questioned as if he were an illegal immigrant despite his visa and refugee papers. Papers which were very much in order when he left for the funeral a week ago and when he boarded the plane home the day before.
On January 27, 2017, Executive Order 13769 had been issued, the chaos and injustice of this new ruling throwing the lives of thousands into chaos.

I should really start a list called "books that made me want to cry". It'll be a very eclectic list because very few stories make me want to cry and I normally avoid them. Which actually made me wonder a little why I decided to review this book (did I request it? was it offered? I don't recall) when it's usually not my thing. At any rate, no regrets.

No Land to Light On is a poignant and heart-wrenching read, following both Sama & Hadi's struggles as they try to reunite after the Muslim ban was put in place by Trump. The first person POV flips between Sama & Hadi - often disjointed, like our thoughts are, running in circles and getting stuck on strange things. There is a raw tone to these passages, offering thoughts straight from their minds as they try to navigate both legal and personal battles. Threaded through this, a third-person narrative flashes back to the difficult journeys and sacrifices they - and their families - made to get to the USA in the first place.

Where is home? And what is home? Is it a place? And why is it that place? Is it your roots and the land you came from? Or is it the land where you've transplanted yourself? Yara explores this gently from various angles. Sama left Syria and her parents willingly five years before for the freedom that America offered; it is the only home she wants, the one that she is trying so hard to assimilate in so that it will truly accept her. Hadi was forced out two years before by fear and his mother (or his mother's fear for his life) in search of a safe harbour that would not murder him; he finds comfort in the company of other immigrants, pulled towards the familiarity and yet pushing away from the painful memories of war and deprivation.

And what is love? Love here is expressed not in loud declarations, flashy gifts, or sexual acts. It's offered quietly in the way Sama's parents offer food and money and Sama hides her problems to shield them from worry. It's shown in the way Hadi tries to find safety for his parents through the family reunification program and how his parents try to go through with it even though they do not wish to leave their land. Love here is the way Hadi and Sama cannot truly leave their culture, food, and language, although they have left their land behind.

Yara uses Syrian words unapologetically throughout the novel. Sometimes it is confusing - what are they truly saying? Do I need to google this word? But most times, it grounds the story, makes it feel earthier, weightier, more authentic, an honest, raw expression of the injustices of this world. It is also a reminder that not all stories are for you. This one is for Syria and the Syrian refugees, especially those still caught in limbo.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Atria Books via Edelweiss+. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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