Review: ‘As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow’ Is a Beautiful and Heartrending Love Letter to Syria
Zoulfa Katouh’s powerful debut YA novel, As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow, is equal parts hopeful and heartbreaking. The novel follows Salama Kassab, a Muslim teenager who is studying to be a Pharmacist when the Syrian Revolution breaks out. Life as she knew it disintegrates before her eyes as she loses her family, her home, and her freedom. Within days, she’s elevated from a first-year pharmacy student to a surgeon as she volunteers at a hospital in Homs. Daily, she treats the martyrs of Syria—men, women, and children—suffering from all forms of atrocities inflicted on them by their government, from sniper attacks to chemical warfare.
Salama is desperate to flee Syria with her pregnant sister-in-law, Layla. She is so desperate that she even conjures a physical embodiment of fear, Khawf, who torments her day and night until she follows through with leaving Syria. At the same time, though, she feels she cannot turn her back on her country and her people. She becomes even more torn when she meets Kenan, a young man with a deep love for Syria, who is willing to fight for his freedom down to his very last breath. As unexpected love blossoms between them, they struggle to understand how they can carry on the fight for Syria’s freedom from any corner of the world.
The release of As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow on September 13, 2022, officially makes Katouh the first Syrian YA author to be published in the U.S. and U.K. She was first inspired to write the novel when she realized that many Europeans and Americans don’t know what the Syrian Revolution is about and are unaware of the dire situation in the country. Hence, she wrote As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow to tell the story of Syria and she truly holds nothing back in giving a voice to her people.
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow: Painful, Hopeful, & Stunningly Beautiful
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is a painful novel to read. It wouldn’t fully encompass the story of the Syrian Revolution if it didn’t capture the pain of a people stripped of their freedom and under attack by their government. The young, dying boy who promises to “tell God everything,” the Free Syrian Army soldier content with an arm amputation because he can still fight with his other arm, the 13-year-old boy who hasn’t spoken since his parents were killed, the helpless babies in incubators bombed by the government—these tales capture the untold truth of Syria and will reverberate in your mind long after you’ve finished reading.
Yet, the novel isn’t just pain; it is also hope. You will feel the hope radiating from every page. There is hope in the love that blossoms between Salama and Kenan, in the notes of the national anthem ringing from every mouth, and in the promise of refugees to one day return to Syria. As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow isn’t a tale of a pain, but of the awe-inspiring resilience and hope of a people in the midst of a revolution, who will never stop fighting for their freedom. It is this hope ringing from the novel that can truly inspire the world to take action and to join the fight for Syria’s freedom, too.
Meanwhile, the pain, hope, and words of As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow converge to create a work of literature that will take your breath away with its beauty. While Katouh writes in prose, there are moments when her novel reads more like poetry. You will be swept up in the novel’s intricate detail, the compelling and clever personification of Khawf, the colors of Syria’s sunset, and the sweet, young love that deepens with every turn of the page. Katouh’s novel will educate you, make you weep for Syria, make you care for Syria, make you hope for Syria, and will stun you with the overwhelming beauty hiding in the places you least expected it.
(featured image: Little, Brown and Company, John Englart)
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