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The Arsonists' City

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  3,328 ratings  ·  624 reviews
A rich family story, a personal look at the legacy of war in the Middle East, and an indelible rendering of how we hold on to the people and places we call home

The Nasr family is spread across the globe—Beirut, Brooklyn, Austin, the California desert. A Syrian mother, a Lebanese father, and three American children: all have lived a life of migration. Still, they’ve always
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published March 9th 2021 by Mariner Books
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Average rating 4.34  · 
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 ·  3,328 ratings  ·  624 reviews

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Elyse  Walters
Apr 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
Absolutely fantastic… Review soon!!!

Audiobook....read by Leila Buck....(she was excellent)...
E-book ..... read by me.....(yeah, I’m excellent too)...haha!

This is a huge story....sooo much going on! It’s a big-fat-fricken-character-driven-family-saga-STORY!!! There are familiar universal themes. Themes for grownups. Complexities of adulthood...[be it marriage, sex,secrets, migration, betrayals, jealousy, aging, ambition, war, political and cultural challenges, belonging, failing
Jun 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021-favorites
I did not want this rich, nuanced, novel to end. Set in Beirut, Damascus, New York, Austin and California, I became immersed in the life of a family over two generations. A family conflicted with rivalries and secrets - each person so real they jumped off the page and into my heart. Glorious!
Dec 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Elle by: Carrie | Boston Book Fanatic
I’ll start off by saying this is a book I have had in my possession for nearly a year at this point, so full credit to Carrie (@bostonbookfanatic) for finally getting me to read it by picking it as our last Mystery Book Club selection of 2021!

The Arsonists’ City is a twisting, unsparing family drama spanning several generations as well as continents. It also features one of the most compelling opening sequences I’ve read from literary fiction in quite a while. Within the Nasr family we follow th
Sharon Metcalf
4.5 stars

When I read Salt Houses by Hala Alyan I was blown away by her superb writing and the characters she created so it's fair to say I was super enthused about reading her latest novel Arsonist's City.    That enthusiasm was well rewarded within moments of starting and never let up.     Alyan's prologue had me in its grips from the first sentence to the last, her words instantly transporting me to a refugee camp in Beirut where she set the scene for a violent death, retribution for a past wr
Jordan (Jordy’s Book Club)
Mar 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
QUICK-ISH TAKE: Taking placeover the course of several decades, TAC is told in two timelines: the first follows the members of the Nasr family- Syrian mother Mazna, Lebanese father Idris, and their 3 adult children- who travel from America to Beirut to stop Idris from selling his childhood home, a home that the children would one day inherit; the second timeline follows the relationship between Idris and Mazna, from the time they first meet in Damascus up to present day.⁣

Like all multigeneratio
Following the death of a grandfather and the decision to sell the ancestral home in Beirut, this family of a Lebanese father, a Syrian mother, and three Arab-American children find themselves under the same roof for some time, with a purpose to either stick with what has once been finalised by the father, the new patriarch of this family, or with an aim to reverse this determination — as thought by the mother and supported by the children.

Immensely uplifted with an excellent character developme
Etaf Rum
May 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“I didn’t think I could love The Arsonists’ City as much as Salt Houses, but I did. It was sharp, thought-provoking; I couldn’t put it down. Hala Alyan is a lyrical force, a much needed voice in Arab-American literature.
luce ❀ wishfully reading ❀ semi hiatus
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3 ½ stars

Moving through space (America, Lebanon, Syria) and time (from the 1960s to 2019) The Arsonists' City tells a sprawling yet engrossing tale about the Nasr, a Syrian-Lebanese-American family. Written with the same subtlety and beauty as her debut novel, The Arsonists' City presents readers with a cast of fully-fleshed out characters, however flawed or frustrating they may be, a rich exploration of the Nasrs' personal and cultural id
Athena (OneReadingNurse)
Thanks so much to Bookish First and HMH (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) for the advanced copy of The Arsonists’ City in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

This is an extremely rich and nuanced look into family, life, heritage, and identity, but I struggled with whether or not to feature this one on the blog.  I try really hard to stick to cleaner content these days and there are more than a few mature sexual situations & adultery in this one, but there’s also a discourse on human
Feb 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“I think people deserve to have their secrets.”

Every character in The Arsonists’ City has his or her own secrets. They are all enigmas, not only to those around them, but also to themselves. And now all of them—the Syrian mother Mazna and her Lebanese cardiologist husband Idris and their three grown children, Ava, Mimi and Naj—are about to come together in the ancestral home in Beirut for the first time in years.

This is a novel that mines deepest emotions—long ago passions secret loves, rivalrie
Dec 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: smitha
Where do I even begin to talk about Hala Alyan’s “The Arsonists’ City”? How can I gather all the feelings and observations and emotions it brims with and crush them into this miniscule capsule? For Alyan’s novel sprawls across countries – Syria, Lebanon, America – people, and, most of all, matters of the heart.

This is a multi-generational story that begins with Idris’ decision to sell the family house in Beirut, which becomes a cause for the entire family – Idris, his wife Mazna, and their thre
Holly R W
The outstanding books that I read have all been absorbing from the first page on. The Arsonists' City is such a book. This is the second book I have read written by Hala Alyan. Like Salt Houses, the novel is about a family of Arab descent spanning through four generations. A major portion of the novel is spent in both Beirut, Lebanon (where the father is from) and Damascus, Syria (the mother's city).

The central characters are Mazna (the mother) and Idris (the father) and their three children, a
Oct 03, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, contemporary
"Tonight the man will die. In some ways, the city already seems resigned to it, the Beirut dusk uncharacteristically flat, cloudy, a peculiar staleness rippling through the trees like wind"

I received an Arc from Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange of an honest review

Star rating- 3.25
Technical rating- 7.5/10
Enjoyment rating- 4/10

This is one of those books that made me question how I review books. I was constantly thinking about how I'm going to rate this. I didn't want to rate i
The Arsonists’ City is a family drama saga taking place in Beruit and all across the United States. It is very character driven and focuses in depth of each character. It tells the tale of the Nasr family - the children and the parents, moving between present day and the past of how the parents met. I think that the emotional depth of human emotion was captured quite well. The writing was very beautiful and poetic.

I did like this however I did think it was a little too long and slow for my liki
Mar 13, 2022 rated it it was ok
Frustrating, irritating, infuriating, yes, but more than anything, The Arsonists' City was just a deeply, deeply unpleasant book.

This book reminded me of The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo, which is just about the most damning indictment I can give it. There are some books I dislike, and there are some books I actively hate. This was the latter.

Let's begin with the characters, who are, according to what I've written in the notes on my phone, "absolutely fucking insufferable." And I
I really enjoyed this multi-generational story of the Nasr and Adib families, with their origins in Lebanon and Syria, and eventual spread across America. It is well-told and well-written, with deeply loveable (though fallible) & compelling characters and rich settings. I want more from Ms. Alyan, please.

It begins in 2019 with the three adult children. Ava is a botanist in Brooklyn, New York, married to Nate and with two small children Rayan and Zina. Mimi (aka Marwan) is a lead singer & guitari
Nov 21, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just a truly enjoyable read. Beautiful writing (please see my many highlights), smart and thoughtful plotting, affecting/poignant tone.

I don't recall where I first heard about this book. It was a list...perhaps some book awards or something (Found the list: https://www.aspenwords.org/programs/l... . After seeing the general description, I picked it up immediately (dropping my other in-progress book).

In any case, this book is gorgeous. And I'd readily read this author's future works.

The characte
Oct 15, 2020 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021, lebanese-lit
After reading and loving Salt Houses I'm excited to read this. Hala's writing is exquisite!

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with an eARC of this novel via NetGalley.
Elle Samuels
Apr 29, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This. Book. Was. Amazing. A detailed look into the past, future, and current lives of the Nasr family. It starts with a death and ends with hope for forgiveness and finally happiness, with a whole lot of drama, tension, and flawed humanity in between.

We zig-zag back and forth between Idris and Mazna and their three grown children, Mimi, Naj, and Ava. We get intimate details on their relationships, their love and heartbreak, their flaws and their disappointments, and resentment. So so much resen
switterbug (Betsey)
Apr 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Throughout the novel, as I was reading, I kept hearing the Neko Case song, “Hold On, Hold On,” about how it is safer to be around strangers, as the familiar was too dangerous. That sums up the Nasr family’s approach, living apart from each other due to guilt, shame, and relationship issues. Mazna (from Damascus) and Idris (from Beirut) met in the 70s, while Mazna was doing local theater, dreaming of becoming a famous actress, and Idris was in medical school, pursuing a career as a surgeon. They ...more
First of all, Hala Alyan is a true wordsmith.
There is no arguing the excellence in her craft, the vividness of her imagery and her acute perception of human nature. I simply wanted to swoon over her words. I cracked a smile every time she nailed the description of the Arab disposition whether she meant a person or a nation (I probably should note that I'm an Arab who lived most of her life in what is universally dubbed as the Middle East).

Nevertheless, the book left me at a loss. It opened magni
Feb 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The Arsonists' City is a beautiful, multigenerational tale about family, love, and secrets. I adored every page and would recommend it to anyone who who enjoys long, multilayered stories. ...more
Bruce Katz
Apr 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
3.5 rounded up. And done with great internal conflict. Most of the way through the book I was torn between 4 and 5. But then...

Before I go any further, let me get this out of the way: This is an extraordinary book, truly. I sincerely recommend it to anyone who likes well-written, thoughtful, insightful, and compelling fiction. Full stop. Don't let anything I write here dissuade you from reading "The Arsonists' City." The problems I had with it are almost certainly a consequence of my tastes and
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
The Arsonists' City by Hala Alyan is a multi-generational family saga about a Lebanese/Syrian family. The patriarch is Idris Nasr, a Lebanese, married to Mazna, a Syrian. Their three children are Ava, Mimi (Marwan), and Naj (Najla). Apart from Naj who lives in Beirut, the family all live in America. Set mostly against the backdrop of a Lebanon emerging from sectarian tensions and civil war, the novel covers a span of about 40 years. The focus is on Mazna and her adult children. Their challenges ...more
Apr 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful novel - what a wonderful ride - I did not want it to end! This is a family saga with family members who are well described and brought to life. There is a little of everything a family saga should contain: lost love, sibling rivalry, jealousy, lost careers (a woman, of course), marriage and its ups and downs and more. However, there is much more. There is war, which raged in Beirut for 15 years and affected each character, whether directly or indirectly. There is the treatment o ...more
Katherine Younkin
Feb 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery
Hala Alyan’s gripping family saga had me awake reading in the early hours. This is a novel filled with family secrets, drama, sorrow, and joy. I couldn’t stop myself from being pulled into the lives of the Nasrs. The plot dynamic revolves around Idris, a cardiothoracic surgeon, and his wife, Mazna, going back to Beirut, Lebanon, for the summer after Idris’s father dies. Idris has decided to sell the home he has inherited, which has been in the family for years. Mazna has used her considerable sk ...more
Courtney Sieloff
Jul 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Thanks to NetGally and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the early access! I received this book for free through NetGally in return for an honest review.

This book is a beautifully written, old-fashioned story. What I mean by that is that it is an elegant read, with surprises and insight, delving into relationships at a deep level. It's slow in places, but more languid than dull. It doesn't race, but it doesn't need to because the secrets kept continue to shock. It's also not a plot driven story, so
Laura Dvorak
Jan 08, 2022 rated it it was amazing
A *perfect* book.

Had I finished this in 2021, it would have rivaled THE FIVE WOUNDS for my top book of the year. The two share quite a lot: big family saga, secrets between generations, rooted in a specific place and culture. The prose is so sharp, the characters so deeply drawn...I could have read another 450pgs of this. A must read if you love a big book about family that isn't trite or cliche.
Seema Rao
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lyrical, compelling, emotional. Well done family story in a perilous backdrop. I tore through it because it was so engrossing. Meditations on home and family like this one are particularly important now.

Thanks to NetGalley for an Arc in exchange for an honest review.
May 23, 2021 rated it liked it
Hala Alyan’s writing is so very good,but this novel is filled to the brim with too many details and characters obscuring the beautiful writing. Also, it felt as if she was trying to pack too many historical events into the story. I enjoyed her first novel, Salt Houses more than this one.
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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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