A heart-wrenching story about love and hope amidst a brutal reality.
Zoulfa Katouh is a Switzerland-based Canadian writer of Syrian heritage. In As Long as the Lemon Trees grow, she tells the heartbreaking yet inspirational tale of Salama Kassab, a girl who tries to escape post-revolution Syria with her pregnant best friend.
Though Salama is a fictional character, she represents the real citizens of Syria whose lives have been rendered unrecognisable by the ongoing Syrian Civil War. At several points in the story, Salama notes that the outside world doesn’t know — or doesn’t care — about the atrocities that are taking place on Syrian soil, and hopefully As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow can raise some much-needed awareness.
Comprised of beautiful writing that never succumbs to cheesiness, this story is a powerful one. From a creative writing point of view, Katouh successfully builds escalating tension through a number of well-researched and well-crafted scenes as Salama comes to terms with her reality and fights for her freedom. Along with Salama, who is an endearing and capable protagonist, there are a handful of other characters that help bring the story to life. Salama’s best friend and sister-in-law Layla provides many light moments of relief, and their bond is a wonderful portrayal of strong, positive, and refreshing female friendship.
Then there’s Kenan, a conservative male character who is also gentle and thoughtful, and genuinely wants the best for Salama. The romantic arc between Salama and Kenan feels organic and helps to make this a story about love and hope, as much as it is about the grim reality of a country struck by war.
The other character of note is Khawf, Salama’s imagined companion who arrives to feed doubt into her mind and manipulate her decisions. Including this character was a fantastic way for Katouh to explore the implications of grief on mental health and to convey the multi-layered extent of Salama’s pain.
Though As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is absolutely heart-wrenching, it also has moments of supreme beauty. It doesn’t leave the reader feeling drained or hopeless, despite a few confronting passages. With its accurate representation of the faces behind a civil war that still rages, this story is above all a love letter to Syria and a voice for its people.
Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.
Distributed by: Bloomsbury
Released: September 2022