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  • Incredible family saga

    This story unfolds in Beirut, Damascus, and the United States bouncing between the 1980s and present day. Idris, Manza, and their three adult children (Ava, Mimi, and Naj) are brought together by Idris’ desire to sell his childhood home in Beirut. With the family coming together, we learn about them as individuals and about their relationships to one another. Like any family, they have their secrets that we slowly learn about throughout the book. The large majority of the book takes place in the past, showing the events that led Manza and Idris to move to California. While this book is a work of fiction, the backdrop of Syria and Lebanon in the 1980s creates a story that seems very real. The historical nature of this book was very insightful. The author managed to pack a lot of history and insights into an incredible story. As someone who prefers shorter books, this one was on the longer side for me (440 pages). Longer books tend to intimidate me, or I find myself zoning out during parts that I don’t find interesting. Alyan’s writing had me invested from the beginning and there was not one page that had me losing interest. This beautiful family saga tapped into so many emotions, it’s hard to sum it all up. As a music lover I really enjoyed Naj and Mimi’s storylines, though Manza is hands down my favorite character. I really hope this book gets a lot of buzz this year because I thought it was absolutely fantastic.

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  • Masterful family saga

    From that heart wrenching, empathetic prologue, "The Arsonists' City" becomes a masterfully done family saga about the secrets people keep from their loved ones and healing frayed familial bonds. There's also some social commentary on America, there's sex and infidelity galore, there's music, there's betrayal, there's the love, fleeting and not so fleeting, unconditional and not... There's the backdrop of the Lebanese civil war that has a lasting effect on the country and its people and their descendants that echos even years after it ended. Characters provide more background information in the story for readers (like me) who have little knowledge of the war... The part where Mazna is talking with her theater director and other actors provided decent enough context for me. I have very few complaints. Mazna and Najla were my favorite characters, so I personally wish more of the story was focused on them, rather than have it be split equally between them and the others. Accordingly, I didn't like the sections with the others as much. Like Mimi. He's a fallible human...and relatable, to an extent, but honestly pretty unlikable. It took me until the very end to warm up to him. Idris as well. I thought him irredeemable for [spoilers]... but the scene at the end softened me. Will probably read "Salt Houses" in the future, and definitely "The Twenty-Ninth Year." It was no surprise to me that Alyan is also a poet. *I read this via NetGalley

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  • A moving multigenerational saga

    The Arsonists’ City is a moving multigenerational story about family, politics, secrets and love. It’s also a personal glimpse into the war in the Middle East and it’s impact on so many families. The Nasr family is scattered around the globe, mother and father, Mazna and Idris, are immigrants to America from Syria and Lebanon. Their three children are American but have lived a life of migration. After his father passes away, Idris decides that it’s some to sell their ancestral home in Beirut, which they’ve kept for all these year. Due to local law, the entire family must travel to Beirut to complete the sale, where the family unites against Idris in an attempt to keep the house. Being together raises all of their secrets to the surface in a city with more than it’s share of drama – religious and political protest, the ongoing legacy of war, refugees. The story is told with a split timeline and the point of view alternating among the different characters. The characters are so richly developed and complex – the story is very driven by these remarkably deep characters. All of the different threads of their pasts and presents slowly intertwine in multifaceted layers to bring the family’s saga full circle. I especially enjoyed the cultural aspects of the book – learning about the different countries and a bit of their histories and traditions.

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