Salt houses : The ravages of war and the staying power of family.

Author: Hala Alyan

Pages: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Blurb :

Salma is forced to leave her home in Nablus; Alia’s brother gets pulled into a politically militarized world he can’t escape; and Alia and her gentle-spirited husband move to Kuwait City, where they reluctantly build a life with their three children. When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990, Alia and her family once again lose their home, their land, and their story as they know it, scattering to Beirut, Paris, Boston, and beyond. Soon Alia’s children begin families of their own, once again navigating the burdens (and blessings) of assimilation in foreign cities.


Salt Houses has been on my reading list since the beginning of summer. So, finally getting around to it was both satisfying and scary, because sometimes books disappoint. Hala Alyan‘s debut did not disappoint. The novel is a generational saga following the lives of the Yacoubs. Written from multiple POV’s, each chapter jumps about five years from the last, beginning from the early sixties.


Salma Yacoub is the family’s matriarch and the story opens at her youngest daughter, Alia‘s wedding to Atef. Thereafter, Alia and Atef‘s family frankly becomes the central story as her siblings do not bear any offspring. The book’s layout is pretty similar to Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (reviewed here), but better, especially in character development and smoother time jumps. You finish Salt Houses feeling like you truly know every member of the family and can predict their responses to situations.

salt houses hala alyan
image via Houghton Mifflin Harcourt books.


The title, Salt Houses, I believe serves to portray houses that wash away or are lost and boy, is there loss in this story. After the family is forced to flee their first home in Jaffa, their lives span across Nablus, Kuwait, Beirut, Boston and Paris. This story forces you to consider what war does. What people lose in wars; not just family, but memories, lives. Still, Alyan has created an utterly dynamic family in the Yacoubs. Every single person different in their own right and yet so unmistakably related.


I enjoyed getting to know everyone in the family, each chapter, nearly a journal of sorts, although written in the third person. My favorite character would have to be Atef. I loved his steadiness, despite his struggles. His resilience and loyal love for his family was heartwarming. Alia and Linah are close in line and I truly wish I could’ve learned more about the charismatic Mustafa.

The writing in Salt Houses is so lyrical and that is perhaps my favorite thing about this book. It is possibly due to Alyan‘s background in poetry, but this is a book to savor. The characters are rich and multidimensional and so is the setting. In Salt Houses, Hala Alyan brings the Middle East to life, showcases the importance of family in this culture and how war and grief can mar relationships.

Every sentence in this book was perfect to me and I admit to shamelessly rereading certain paragraphs. Hala Alyan can tell a story. Salt Houses is dazzling, riveting and heartbreaking.

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5/5 Stars.

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