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Salt Houses

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  5,396 ratings  ·  806 reviews
“Reading Salt Houses is like having your coffee grounds read: cosmic, foreboding and titillating all at once. In this magnificent debut, Alyan’s powerful and poetic voice guides us into the dark recesses of history and leads us right up to the present tensions between East & West, the modern & ancestral, the hopeless and the hopeful.” 
—Aline Ohanesian, author of Or
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 2nd 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Claire I did not find this book to be overly biased; while it certainly presents a specific point of view of events in the region it was mainly a story about…moreI did not find this book to be overly biased; while it certainly presents a specific point of view of events in the region it was mainly a story about an ordinary (displaced) family, which touched on political issues only insofar as they influenced the lives of the characters. It would be nice if the previous commenter could be more specific about what information she found incorrect or misleading.(less)
Briony This was her statement:

And what’s the story behind the title?

It was actually titled something different at first, but when we finished all the edits…more
This was her statement:

And what’s the story behind the title?

It was actually titled something different at first, but when we finished all the edits and it was time to send it out, my agent was like, “You need to change the title. It’s not relevant.”

So I was going over different notes, and thinking about the themes that were most salient in the book, which words were repeated. Obviously there were houses, homes. And I thought about this one scene, where one of the characters talks about remembering all of the different houses that he and his family have lived in over the decades, and thinking of them as structures made of salt that the tide can come and erase. Salt houses. That was it.

Community Reviews

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3.89  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,396 ratings  ·  806 reviews

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May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
“We can't imagine how dreadful, how terrifying war is; and how normal it becomes. Can't understand, can't imagine. That's what every soldier, and every journalist and aid worker and independent observer who has put in time under fire, and had the luck to elude the death that struck down others nearby, stubbornly feels. And they are right.”
― Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

I can't even begin to imagine how it must feel to be faced with the fact that you can never return to your home. T
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I wasn't sure what a salt house was before reading this so I googled the crap out of it and there was still no definitive definition. A house by the sea was the closest I got - but that's all you need to know for this one.

This is a multigenerational story of a family in the Middle East. It's where traditions are weaved intricately into the daily lives of this family. It starts with a coffee ground reading for a girl about to be married, which foretells of a horrific and unstable future.

Not long
Angela M
May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

A displaced family, a multigenerational story of their lives over decades in the various places they move to - from Jaffa to Kuwait to Amman to Paris and Boston . A Palestinian family, the Yacoubs, a family of means is not unscathed by the wars and the politics of the places in which they live because they live comfortably. It affords them the ability to leave their home when they have to insure their safety but it doesn't insulate them from the deep emotional consequences of being disp
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan is a 2017 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publication.

Powerful, eye opening cultural family saga –

This deeply absorbing novel follows a Palestinian family through several generations as they endure war, loss, and displacement.

As the story begins, Salma follows an old tradition of 'reading' the coffee dregs for her daughter, Alia, before her wedding.

What she sees, disturbs her, as it appears her daughter will lead an unsettled life, but she decides not to share her knowledge
Diane S ☔
May 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 I have thought about this book on and off for the last day or so a buddy read with Angela and Esil. Such a wonderful family, displaced people, living in countries not of their birth. Displaced by war, in Iraq, Kuwait, Palestine, Arabs who try to find a home. We follow this family through generations, chapters devoted to different family members and my favorite from the beginning was Atef. This man who marries Alia, a woman he loves very much, but he is consumed by so much guilt, a quiet man ...more
May 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
There’s something about Salt Houses that worked perfectly for me. It’s a multi-generational story about a family originally from Palestine, displaced and scattered, but that remains strongly united over the years. The story is told from the alternating points of view of a few family members across three generations, starting in 1967 up to today. Each lengthy chapter picks up a few years after the previous chapter, but flits back and forth in time, catching us up on what happened in the last few ...more
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars

"There it is. She had not been mistaken. The porcelain surface of the teacup is white as salt; the landscape of dregs, violent."

We first meet Salma and daughter Alia the night before Alia’s wedding. A tradition passed through the generations, the reading of the coffee dregs foretells the future of the bride-to-be. The omen traced by those dregs will soon come to pass.

Spanning decades, Salt Houses depicts the absorbing story of a multigenerational family in the Middle East beginning in P
Apr 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful story about a Palestinian family uprooted from their home in Nablus in 1967 in the wake of the Six-Day War.
The story begins with a mother named Salma reading her daughter Alia's future in a cup of coffee dregs on the eve of her wedding, and follows this family through their displacement to Kuwait. In 1990 they lose everything again and scatter to Beirut, Paris, and the United States.
We will see this family grow, Alia's children, grandchildren, and follow their heartbreaks
...4.5 Stars.

...A wonderful Palestinian family saga evolves decade by decade taking the reader from one side of the world to the other, from one culture to another beginning with the happiness of young love and marriage in a land most loved through sadness and loss and the devastation of war with recurring displacement.

...Most memorable for me, though, won't be the difficult times, but the beautiful descriptive scenery of a place I have little knowledge, the interspersion of life-changing histor

Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, library-book
”The tongues have been cut from the bells
Lest they swing out loud and tell
How still we hide away
Shadows whisper by like brooms
Skirting halls to basement rooms;
They hunker low, waiting out the day…

“Great water lies between us
Great water moves below—
Great water lies between us
Great water begs we both arise and go”

-- Water Between Us, Joe Henry, Songwriters: Joe Henry

4.5 Stars

"That house. The ones that came after. He thinks of them, instinctively touching the soil again. All the houses they have l
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
... We are what we produced in the land that was ours
we are what’s left of us in exile
we are the plants of a broken vase
we are what we are, but who are we?
Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet

This story is as beautiful as the cover that contains it. I was spellbound by Alyan’s storytelling, moved by her use of language and engrossed by this family’s history. We follow four generations of a Palestinian family and see real world events through the lens of these characters’ experiences and what the au
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I loved this novel. It takes a Palestinian family and follows different members throughout periods of conflict, chaos, and opportunity. It starts in the early 1960s and follows through the present day. It asks questions about home, family, belonging, and identity. Despite events often being dictated by war and early characters being forced into becoming refugees, the focus is much more domestic. The characters are worried about their relationships, their toys, their classes. I really appreciated ...more
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2017
Pretty impressive debut novel; a multigenerational family drama about the displacement of Palestinian refugees due to wars in the Middle East. The story has multiple narrators and follows four generations of the family as they are displaced over and over again, finally scattered throught the Middle East, Europe and America.

I loved the first three quarters of the book, but started to lose interest in the fourth generation of narrators. I put the book down for a while and then had a hard time reme
At a party in the evening before her daughter Alia's wedding, Salma reads the patterns in the coffee grains in her daughter's cup. She's frightened at the unsettled life she sees predicted. She does not want to spoil Alia's happiness and only tells part of her fortune. Salma, a Palestinian from Jaffa, had been displaced and was now living in Nablus with her family. The Six Day War in 1967, and Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 forced the family to migrate several more times until famil ...more
May 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Have you ever been in a group of tourists guided by someone who was speaking in a quiet, insipid voice, without changing intonation? You probably caught your mind in the act of wandering away. Maybe you felt like abandoning the group and exploring the city on your own? That’s what I experienced most of the time while reading ‘Salt Houses’ by Hala Alyan. The closer to the end the better this book gets but all in all, it hasn’t proved to be the treat I anticipated.

If I showed you ‘Salt Houses’ and
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This multi-generational story is a beautifully written debut novel. The story takes place between 1948 and 2014 and is told via shifting viewpoints of a Palestinian family. The author is genius at crafting her vibrant characters and how each personality deals with homeland instability, their struggles, upheavals and day to day uncertainty, the byproducts of middle eastern politics and war. I cared about what happened to each of them during tumultuous times. I know little of the Middle East cultu ...more
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The conflicts and upheaval of the middle east can feel overwhelming when consumed as news, but in Salt Houses, Hala Alyan captures what we all need to see -- wars irrevocably scald people and mold their characters. Home is a mutating concept for the members of the Jacoub clan as exile -- from Jaffa to Nablus, Nablus to Kuwait City, then to Amman, Beruit, and beyond -- reverberates through succeeding generations.

The novel started slowly for me -- I nearly didn't get past the first two chapters -
Stephanie Anze
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
On the eve of Alia's wedding, her mother Salma reads her future in a cup of coffee dregs. What she sees alarms her. Alia and her soon-to-be-husband Atef have a complicated and difficult life ahead of them. Salma, however, says nothing only mentioning the pleseant parts of the reading to Alia. Not much time passes when the Six Day War takes a member of the Yacoub family (Alia's famly) and forces the rest to relocate. It will be the first of many forced moves.

This multigenerational family saga fol
Jennifer Blankfein
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Disturbing historical fiction family saga...confirms the fact that war is destructive to to come.
To see other reviews and recommendations please visit and sign up for my blog Book Nation by Jen and like Book Nation by Jen Facebook page for great reading lists and book giveaways.
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's so easy to label people for their heritage, or for the country in which they were born. The evil of war affects and dislocates those who only wish to live their lives and raise their families. This is the story of one such family, yearning for the home they lost in Jaffa during the displacement of Palestinians in the late 1940s. Told intimately through the multigenerational voices of various members of the family, I felt the joys, pains, frustrations, and longings of each. The writing is be ...more
Sharon Metcalf
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
From the beginning I sensed this was a 4 star book but I was wrong. As I read the final pages the feeling that for me this was a 5 star book was overwhelming. There isn't one thing I would change and there was so much I adored about it, not least the writing. Oh, the writing. The prose was magnificent. Salt Houses was Hala Alyan's first novel and I can't imagine how she could possibly deliver to this standard again - but if she puts pen to paper I will undoubtedly put my hand up to read what she ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
4.5 Great character development. Poignant ending.
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
This was so clearly a five star read for me. The major themes in the novel are that of displacement, finding home and intergenerational trauma (and more). Read my full review here:

I'd love to know your thoughts if you've read this.
Claire McAlpine
Salt Houses is a novel that eventually comes full circle, as it follows the female members of a Palestinian family as they flee, move, marry and cope with constantly being and feeling outside where they belong, including between generations and even between siblings.

Each chapter is titled with the name of one of the family, beginning with Salma, the mother of Alia, in Nablus, Palestine, the town she and her husband Hussam and their children fled to in 1948, following the Nakba (catastrophe). Ali
Kasa Cotugno
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
♥ Sandi ❣
3 stars

I had so much trouble getting into this story. To begin with, my unfamiliarity with the character names became an obstacle. Then I also found myself not being able to find any real cohesion in the story until I got to about the fourth or fifth chapter. I restarted this book three times and also got the CD from the library in hopes of cementing, not only the character names, but a plot line in this novel.

I believe that I finally began to understand the story and was able to follow the ge
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, middle-east, 2017
Nostalgia is an affliction. Like a fever or a cancer, the longing for what had vanished wasting a person away.

This is a beautiful, melancholic half-century saga of a Palestinian family’s lives and losses. Strong female voices, anger, pain, displacement. It’s a really good read. Made me quite emotional.

Salt Houses: Nothing lasts. It all gets washed away.
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a poignant story of four generations of Yacoubs, a well off middle class Palestinian family who were originally from Jaffa, finding themselves displaced from their native land numerous times. When the book opens they have already made one move to Nablus. As this region continued to be a war zone, the family moves to escape the conflicts involving the Israelis during the Six Day War and The Iraq invasion of Kuwait. The book follows the lives of family members as they cope with their uphe ...more
Resh (The Book Satchel)
What the book is about?
The story is all about displacements, forced and voluntary.
The novel starts in Nablus, Palestine, in 1963, with Salma reading the future in a coffee cup on her daughter Alia’s wedding day. The family had relocated to Nablus from Jaffa, which became a part of the new-Israel, fifteen years ago.
Later Alia and her husband, Atef, move to Kuwait city and Salma to Jordan after the Six Day war in 1967. In 1990, Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait and the family is dispersed again. Alia
I have not read a book featuring Muslim characters for a long time. When I did I got a completely different picture of the Muslim female than what is portrayed in this book. The women portrayed here are not all wearing veils and burquas, sitting in rooms together gossiping, apart from their husbands (my impression after reading Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris, read in 2011). They are women who are strong and if I weren't watching carefully, could be living in Paris instead of Nablus, Kuwait or Beir ...more
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Retro Chapter Chi...: April 2018: Salt Houses by Hala Alyan 39 17 May 05, 2018 05:35AM  
Salt houses, Angela, Esil and Diane discuss. 26 27 May 05, 2017 05:30AM  
  • Lilli de Jong
  • The Underground Railroad
  • Fox Girl
  • The Kindness of Enemies
  • That Other Me
  • Refuge
  • Valiant Gentlemen
  • Imaginary Maps
  • Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape
  • Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
  • A Map of Home
  • Beartown (Beartown, #1)
  • Mikhail and Margarita
  • Sadness Is a White Bird
  • Across The Nightingale Floor, Episode 2: Journey To Inuyama (Tales of the Otori, #1 Ep. 2)
  • Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness
  • Jia
  • The Last Days of Café Leila
Hala Alyan is an award-winning Palestinian American poet, novelist and clinical psychologist whose work has appeared in numerous journals including The Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner and Colorado Review. She resides in Brooklyn with her husband.
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“What is a life? A series of yeses and noes, photographs you shove in a drawer somewhere, loves you think will save you but that cannot. Continuing to move, enduring, not stopping even when there is pain. That's all life is, he wants to tell her. It's continuing.” 24 likes
“The sea was like another member of the household, a recalcitrant child at times, a soothing aunt at others. She crooned them awake; she crooned them to sleep. Everywhere, there was the smell of salt.” 13 likes
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