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The Thirty Names of Night

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Five years after a suspicious fire killed his ornithologist mother, a closeted Syrian American trans boy sheds his birth name and searches for a new one. He has been unable to paint since his mother’s ghost has begun to visit him each evening. As his grandmother’s sole caretaker, he spends his days cooped up in their apartment, avoiding his neighborhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend (who also happens to be his longtime crush). The only time he feels truly free is when he slips out at night to paint murals on buildings in the once-thriving Manhattan neighborhood known as Little Syria.

One night, he enters the abandoned community house and finds the tattered journal of a Syrian American artist named Laila Z, who dedicated her career to painting the birds of North America. She famously and mysteriously disappeared more than sixty years before, but her journal contains proof that both his mother and Laila Z encountered the same rare bird before their deaths. In fact, Laila Z’s past is intimately tied to his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—in ways he never could have expected. Even more surprising, Laila Z’s story reveals the histories of queer and transgender people within his own community that he never knew. Realizing that he isn’t and has never been alone, he has the courage to officially claim a new name: Nadir, an Arabic name meaning rare.

As unprecedented numbers of birds are mysteriously drawn to the New York City skies, Nadir enlists the help of his family and friends to unravel what happened to Laila Z and the rare bird his mother died trying to save. Following his mother’s ghost, he uncovers the silences kept in the name of survival by his own community, his own family, and within himself, and discovers the family that was there all along.

Featuring Zeyn Joukhadar’s signature storytelling, The Thirty Names of Night is a timely exploration of how we all search for and ultimately embrace who we are.

291 pages, Hardcover

First published November 24, 2020

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About the author

Zeyn Joukhadar

7 books931 followers
Zeyn Joukhadar is the author of The Thirty Names of Night, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Stonewall Book Award, and The Map of Salt and Stars, which won the Middle East Book Award and was a Goodreads Choice Awards and Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize finalist. His work has appeared in the Kink anthology, Salon, The Paris Review, [PANK], and elsewhere, and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Joukhadar guest edited Mizna's 2020 Queer + Trans Voices issue, serves on the board of the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI), and mentors emerging writers of color with the Periplus Collective.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 723 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
July 15, 2021
“What did they see, Mama?” I murmured to her. “What was it that came to meet the birds that flew into the west?”
…My mother turned her face to me over her shoulder. “What came,” she said, “was night, and all its names.”
…not all migrations end with a return home. Every memory begins to cut if you hold onto it too tight.
Reading Zeyn Joukhadar’s The Thirty Names of Night is like walking through an incredibly rich and diverse aviary. Our attention is drawn to each flying thing as it comes into our visual range. No sooner do we coo at the beauty of the last than another feathered image hops into view. As in an actual aviary, there is an entrance and an exit. The flocks, and individuals, provide a landscape as we pass through dips and rises in the path, arriving at recognitions as we reach the end. There is a lot going on here.

Zeyn Joukhadar - image from his FB profile pix

There are three generations and two alternating narrators in this beautiful novel. The twenty-something unnamed (well, for most of the book anyway) narrator is busy creating a mural in what once was Little Syria, before the neighborhood was mostly razed to make the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the World Trade Center. One of the last remnants is an old community house. Led by an owl (not the Hogwarts sort, although it does, in a way, carry a message) to a particular place inside the building, he discovers a hidden journal, left by a woman missing for sixty years, a woman his mother had very much admired. He had been looking for clues to his late mother’s life in her old neighborhood, so this is a rich find.

“The Syrian Colony” – image from Paris Review article

Laila Z was a Syrian immigrant, whose family moved from their troubled home to New York in the 1930s, when she was a teenager. In addition to the usual emotional trauma of such a move, Laila was broken-hearted at having to leave the love of her life. In New York, she begins writing to her lost love, whom we know only as “B” or “little wing.” Laila’s journal makes up half the story. Our contemporary narrator tells his story as he talks to his late mother, whose ghost he can see. Chapters alternate.

Canada Goose

Learning about Laila’s life reveals an unsuspected history of gay and trans people from another era. Laila and our unnamed narrator have much in common. Laila was born in Syria, the narrator was born in the USA of Syrian stock. Laila was a gifted painter of birds. Our narrator is as well, using chalk instead of aquatint. Laila, in the 1930s, dared to love outside the acceptable norms of her culture. Our narrator finds himself struggling to find his way while born into a female body.

A Hudhud or Hoopoe - image from Oiseaux.net

There is a mystery at the center that keeps things moving along. Laila had made a name for herself in the USA as an exceptional artist, specializing in birds. One pair she drew was a new species she had seen, nesting in New York, Geronticus simurghus, a kind of ibis. It is known that she’d done so, but the final image had never been found. Through a friend, our contemporary narrator meets Qamar, the granddaughter of a black ornithologist who’d worked in the 1920s and 1930s. He had been the first to describe this new species, but had never been taken seriously, in the absence of corroboration. Laila’s missing artwork would provide that, and allow Qamar to complete her grandfather’s work. What happened to that piece, and what became of Laila? G. simurghus was named by its discoverer for a character in the Persian poem The Conference of the Birds.
If Simorgh unveils its face to you, you will find
that all the birds, be they thirty or forty or more,
are but the shadows cast by that unveiling.
What shadow is ever separated from its maker?
Do you see?
The shadow and its maker are one and the same,
so get over surfaces and delve into mysteries.
- from that poem
The central, peripheral, overhead, and underfoot imagery in this novel is BIRDS. This includes tales from ancient classics, like the one above. Joukhadar infuses nearly every page with birds, real, magically real, drawn, painted, folded, and sometimes by allusion. Flocks appear, to enhance events. Goldfinches swarm during a building demolition. Forty-eight sparrows fall from the sky on the fifth anniversary of the narrator’s mother’s death.
The first funeral I attended was held under a black froth of wings. The deceased was a crow that had been gashed in the belly by a red-tailed hawk…That was the day my body started conspiring against me. I’d gotten my period.
B makes Laila a gift, a piece of a dead kite they had tried to save, fallen feathers stitched back to make a magnificent silver-white wing. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Our narrator’s mother had been an ornithologist. A close friend of his mother operates a bird-rescue aviary in Queens. An evening at a club entails people dancing, using very bird-like movements. Birds are both expressions of freedom and reflections of a divine presence. They are manifestations of underlying forces and sources of purest love and beauty. They are a means by which people connect with other people.

Passenger Pigeon by Robert Havell - image from the National Gallery of Art

As our contemporary narrator struggles through finding the answer to the rest of Laila’s story, and figuring out what had happened to that special aquatint, he struggles as well with defining who he is. This is something with which Joukhadar is familiar. Zeyn came out publicly in Spring 2019 as transgender, and is now using he/him pronouns. This is not the only transition he has gone through. After earning a Ph.D in Medical Sciences from Brown, and working as a researcher for several years, he moved on to pursuing writing as a full-time gig. He is very interested in the immigrant experience, and the status of Muslims in the USA.
I am tied by blood to Syria, and the country where my father was born is suffering while the country in which I was born still views us as not fully American. Where, then, does that leave me? And for people of Syrian descent living in diaspora, particularly for the generation of children who will grow up in exile because their parents left Syria for safety reasons, what can we take with us? What do we carry with us that cannot be lost? - from the Goodreads interview

Yellow Crowned Night Heron - by John James Audubon - image from Wayfair

Go slowly through this one. There is much to take in, from the avian imagery to the tales of Laila and our narrator, from the flight from Syria to making a home in Manhattan’s Little Syria, from the destruction of that neighborhood to its migration to Brooklyn, from bloody events summoning revelations to love and connection across generations, from the real to the magical, from a portrait of a long-ago place to a look at today, from a place of not knowing to seeing truths beneath the surface. The Thirty Names of Night is a remarkable novel. Spread your wings, catch a thermal and hover. Take in the considerable landscape of content and artistry provided here. This aviary is very tall and there is so much to see.
We parted. I wiped my face with the back of my hand.
“Tell me something beautiful,” you said.
I opened my mouth and out came the only thing that I had ever known to be as beautiful as it was true, that I had once met a woman who knew how to fly.
You clasped my chilled hand in yours and lowered your gaze to our fingers. I hoped I’d said the right thing. My mother always used to say that people in mourning prefer not to talk about the earth.
“What a wonderful thing,” you said, “for just one instant, to be so close to God.”

Review posted – June 5, 2020

Publication dates
----------Hardcover was supposed to be May 19, 2020 – but got CV19’d to November 3, 2020
----------Trade paperback - July 13, 2021

I received an ARE of this book from Atria in return for a few seeds, worms, and some extra twigs for nest fortifications.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, GR, Instagram, and FB pages

Interviews - for his earlier book – recent interviews have eluded me
-----The Booklist Reader- Syria and Synesthesia: An Interview with Debut Author Zeyn Joukhadar By Biz Hyzy
-----Goodreads - Debut Author Snapshot: Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

-----Fairuz - Ya Tayr
-----Little Wing - Hendrix (live)
-----The Wind Beneath My Wings

Items of Interest
-----Paris Review - Little Syria by Angela Serratore
-----Wikipedia- Little Syria
-----The National - The battle to save New York's 'Little Syria' from being forgotten
-----6SqFt - The history of Little Syria and an immigrant community’s lasting legacy- by Dana Schulz
-----Adubon’s Birds of America
-----Birds in Islamic Culture
-----The Cornell Lab Bird Academy - Everything You Need To Know About Feathers by Mya Thompson
----- Public Domain Review - Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing by Qazwini
-----Wikipedia - The Conference of the Birds by Maqāmāt-uṭ-Ṭuyūr
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,275 reviews2,215 followers
May 3, 2021
I wanted to read this book because I loved the beautiful writing in The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar. This novel is also beautifully written. It’s also structured around two time frames and it is about Syrian immigrants. But there is much more here in addition to the Syrian immigrant experience. It’s about grief and loss, about creativity, about coming to terms with who you really are, belonging. There are beautiful love stories here. All of these are stunningly layered and woven together in two time frames, two narratives . It’s about journeys - of people from Syria to America, of birds from one place to another, about the individual journey to one’s true self.

I don’t usually connect with stories told in the second person narrative, especially if the “you” is not identified, but I totally connected with this one because we know from the start that our narrator is speaking to his dead mother. I’m usually put off by unnamed characters, as well, but we eventually learn the new name the character gives himself to acknowledge who he is as he seeks acknowledgment and acceptance from his family and friends. The past narrative in a journal, letters to the love of her life also uses the second person narrative and it worked beautifully here as well.

A little about the history of Syria, of Syrian immigrants in New York City, an intimate depiction of a transgender young man’s journey to acceptance. It has such an intimate and true feeling. Later I found out how intimate and true with this NPR interview (link is included below) with the author who himself is transgender and has traveled the same road as the character in the novel in many ways. An amazing connection of the past and present with secrets held and secrets revealed in a beautiful way.

NPR interview:

I received a copy of this book from Atria through NetGalley. I’m very late in getting to this as the novel was published in November, 2020, but I’m very glad I read it now.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,084 reviews30.1k followers
January 8, 2021
What a remarkable, stunning, memorable, huggable story. I read The Map of Salt and Stars by this author two years ago and could not imagine writing more lyrical and descriptive. I loved every minute with that book, but wow. In The Thirty Names of Night, Zeyn Joukhadar has penned a masterpiece. Where The Map of Salt and Stars has symbolism with salt, Thirty Names has the symbolism and imagery of birds. I could go on and on about the stunning ways birds were integrated into the story.

The characters and timelines: I adored these characters. The two main characters and their relatives and friends are depicted with such warmth and humanity. There are two narrators. The first is unnamed for a large portion of the book as he claims his identity as trans. The second timeline takes place in the past with Laila narrating. Something happened that rarely happens for me and dual timeline books- I loved both periods of time equally and couldn’t wait to return to the other narrator with the alternating chapters.

Lastly, I have to mention culture, which I should have mentioned first (I want to mention allll of it first because I literally loved everything about this book). The Thirty Names of Night is steeped in Syrian and Syrian American culture, the history of Syrians in the US, and Little Syria in NYC. It’s about friendship (these friends- these loyal, loving friends), it’s about family- both biological and found family. The Thirty Names of Night is a profound story, one to savor, feel, and not rush through, one on which to reflect and learn. I’m grateful to the author for the ending, one that really couldn’t be topped and showed his immense love for these characters.

I received a gifted copy.

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
474 reviews1,301 followers
June 25, 2021
LGBT month - this is a most appropriate read.
The name itself is intriguing, as is the story. Women are at the heart of this as is their love of birds.
A Syrian American, struggles with the skin they are in, only finding solace in graffiti paintings of birds. Their mother, an orthnithologist, suspiciously died in a fire 5 years ago. A diary of a Syrian artist, who went missing, is discovered and linked to the mother and grandmother; As are clues to a rare bird. Immigrants from Syria to America and the land they had hoped would bring freedom, and financial security and acceptance.
This is truly about finding comfort in who one is and is an exploratory into the heart, head and body battle that goes on when one discovers they are transgender and not the prescribed sex norm that is expected. The shame, the self struggle. The history and the discovery that you have more in common with the women in your life than you realized. It’s about culture, relationships,as well as beauty and fear. It’s loss and grief and memories one has. It can be as rare as the bird that remained elusive but existed for those who mattered most.
It reminds us that as humans, we come in all forms, sizes and colours; as does our love of others. Just as the birds have many species with different yet beautiful characteristics, humans do too. We don’t all fit the mold expected. The self realization can be liberating.
Outstanding writing. I can’t wait to read Map Salt Stars.
Profile Image for Jennifer Welsh.
217 reviews159 followers
February 2, 2021
A 4-star story with 5-star writing, until the 5-star ending made my eyes sting with tears. Reading this taught me the difference between sadness and sorrow.
Profile Image for Liz.
1,959 reviews2,406 followers
October 24, 2020
3.5 stars, rounded up
It’s hard to describe this book. As others have said, there’s a lot going on here. A closeted trans Syrian American boy in America discovers the journal of a Syrian American artist and discovers a link with his dead mother.
This is a lush, beautifully written book. We hear from two different narrators. The trans young man, whose chapters initially have the name crossed out, is haunted by his dead mother. His mother, who was an ornithologist, was trying to find a bird others swore didn’t exist. Laila Z, the artist whose journal he finds, is the second narrator. A painter of birds, a female Syrian Audubon. She’s been missing for 60 years. We learn of her time during the depression and into the 50s. We also learn of the histories of trans and queer people in the Syrian community through the years. And binding it all together are the birds. The birds - observed, raised, dreamed of and painted. Birds that are now showing up in droves in NYC. There’s an element of surrealism here and at times I wasn’t sure what was real or imagined or dreamed.
Among other mysteries in the book, the unnamed young man is searching for a missing aquatint made by Laila of the same birds his mother sought.
I appreciated the way Joukhardar captures how he views his female body and wants to be seen as a body of light. Given that Joukhardar has also recently identified as male rather than female, it seems especially honest and almost autobiographical.
This is a book to be savored not rushed through. More than once, I had to re-read sections. I will admit to being confused more than once as I read.
My thanks to netgalley and Atria Books for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,308 reviews660 followers
March 1, 2021
I don’t know how to rate the novel “The Thirty Names of Night”. The writing is beautiful, almost dreamy. The story is a powerful one. Although this is a work of fiction, it opened my eyes to Syrian Americans, and especially to an area of NYC that was once “little Syria”. Oh, and birds! I loved learning about the avian world. Saying that, it was a chore to get back to the book. It wasn’t a story that drew me into it. And I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it was a little too mystical (although I adore Alice Hoffman and other mystical writers). This is a gloomy story, and perhaps it’s that given our continued Covid albatross, I just can’t do gloom right now.

What makes the story powerful, for me, is that it’s a transgender man’s coming of age story. The protagonist is an artist who is struggling with his gender identity and how to live in the body he was given at birth. The struggle is painful, and author Zeyn Joukhadar writes it keenly making the reader feel the pain, frustration, and fear. He’s blocked artistically, and the only outlet he allows himself is to paint murals under the cloak of night.

Our protagonist, who is transitioning, has his named crossed out in his early chapters. As the protagonist finds his way, he does eventually name himself Nadir. Thankfully Nadir has a fantastic inner community who helps him through his journey. And what Joukhadar does brilliantly is show how “transitioning” is evolving. Most of us attempt to evolve into better people, into people who we want to be. And he shows how that is what transitioning is…becoming a better person, one who expresses themselves better.

There is another story told in alternating chapters. It is one of an avian artist, Laila, who has ties to our protagonist’s mother. She tells her story in a diary format, writing to another unnamed person. This artist allegedly drew a picture of a rare bird that our protagonist’s ornithologist mother tried to prove was real before she died. Laila’s story is begins in 1920, and illuminates the struggles women, especially Syrian women, had in the professional world.

So, as Nadir “becomes”, we also learn of the fate of Laila. And Nadir finds similarities in his transitioning and the love relationship Laila endured. The stories intertwine creating a beautiful story of love and finding oneself. It’s a story I will remember for a long time. And birds…the knitting of birds, all types, all behaviors adds depth to this dreamy story.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,710 reviews2,235 followers
December 1, 2020

This story begins exactly five years after the loss of the narrator’s mother, and on this night New York City will see forty-eight sparrows fall from the sky. The narrator sits on the roof of Teta’s, his grandmother, apartment building, observing the sky as birds drop, individually, one at a time. Thinking of his mother, how everything since then has changed, how even their grieving has changed, and how it has changed them. The remnants of her life that she left behind have become so precious, he hides the things she left behind, the tokens that were so prized by her have become their only tangible means of remembering, and of grieving.

The narrator goes unnamed for a while, a young transgender boy who eventually chooses his new name as Nadir, an Arabic name meaning rare. And while this is, essentially, a story about him and his journey as an artist as well as the journey to becoming himself, it is also the story of the struggles of all transgender people who wish to be accepted, as well as all immigrants who also see themselves as excluded from being among those self-designated as “we the people.” Particularly, in this story, Syrian immigrants, their struggles, and those of their descendants.

There is a haunting quality to this story, both through the lyrical, poetic quality of the writing and the story itself, the ongoing dialogue to the narrator’s mother, the discoveries that are revealed as this story is unveiled, and the search for more understanding of who his mother was beyond being only his mother also leads him to a discovery of a diary kept by his mother’s favourite artist, a woman who was known for her illustrations of birds. When he discovers the artist’s journal in an old tenement building, he discovers so much more than he anticipated.

This is such a thought-provoking story, connecting so many aspects of life, of living a life that feels honest to how we see ourselves – who we are, of these invisible connections we come across unexpectedly to others, to our culture and family histories, the connections that we create that allow us to more fully embrace ourselves, our lives. Life.

An aura of a poetic, inspired folktale permeates these pages, the prose creates such a moving atmosphere that really never seems to fade, but instead intensifies as this story unfolds.

A dazzlingly enchanted story about living your truth, and discovering the beauty that can be found.

Published: 24 Nov 2020

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Atria Books
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,915 reviews35.3k followers
February 10, 2021
In ‘The Thirty Names of Night’, a closeted Syrian American trans boy sheds his birth name and searches for a new one five years after the death of his ornithologist mother.
Nadir had been unable to paint since his mother’s ghost began to visit him each evening. As his grandmother’s sole caretaker, he spends his days cooped up in their apartment, avoiding his neighborhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend. The only time he feels truly free is when he slips out at night to paint murals on buildings in the once-thriving Manhattan neighborhood known as Little Syria.

We meet Laila Z, a talented artist, Syrian American, who dedicated her career to painting birds in North America. She famously and mysteriously disappeared more than 60 years before, but her journal contains proof that both his mother and Laila Z encountered the same we are bird before their deaths.
Laila Z’s story reveals the history of queer and transgender people within Nadir’s community that he never knew.
Nadir struggles with his identity—yet he resists
being reduced to just a ‘body’. Rather he stands-tall for what’s important: humanity—justice, love, community, gender equality, Arab immigrants, all migrants, and basic kindness to one another.

“Even I believed, by the end, that what you imagined was really possible—that this abandoned tenement, the older of the two left on the block and the place where Laila Z and hundreds of her Syrian immigrants had once lived, could really become a place of prayer, a place of history, with a protected home for the birds who miraculously built a nest on the roof. But futures so beautiful are rare for people like us. You lost your battle and, in the process, I lost you to someone else’s anger. There was a confidence in everything you did that I never learned to emulate, a belief in everything you loved, as though victory was secured, as though it wasn’t a fool’s errand to believe in justice. You weren’t afraid when the death threats came, and you don’t look afraid now. For a ghost, you are strong-shouldered, the glow of middle-age still gleaming on your brown hands. With no one else in this closet but us, I could be the one who died in the fire, not you. I am left with these paper-wrapped frames and the reminder you always gave me with a raised eyebrow: ‘Don’t believe them when they tell you who is dead and who was living”.

“I am struck by the feeling that I know none of my neighbors. Folks come and go so often now it seems pointless to get to know them.
When Teta was in the boldness of middle-age, everyone on the block knew each other and asked after each other‘s children. In Yorkville, before it all burned around us, before I moved in with Teta, you used to stop
into the Yemeni bakery around the corner for fresh bread and ask how the owner’s son was doing. You used to wave hello to the sisters down the hall, Russian immigrants in their nineties whose husbands had long since passed away, who would invite us in for tea and round sugar-dusted cookies. The woman who owned the laundromat down the block, whom you’d known for twenty years, kept my baby pictures in her wallet”.

Author Zeyn Joukhadar, of ‘The Map of Salt and Stars’,
wrote the most beautiful book....
Themes explore loss, love, art, queer, and trans communities——brilliantly....
the prose is gorgeous...
soooooo stunning!

I’m deeply moved and in awe!

Profile Image for Emily Coffee and Commentary.
326 reviews92 followers
October 26, 2022
Powerful, poetic, and tender, this novel is a portrait of loss, of love, of finding the true spirit and courage that resides within the heart. The prose, fluid and lyrical, examines the fault lines within communities, professions, families, and the people who join hands to mend them. A beautiful letter to remind us to love ourselves, our pasts, our endeavors, and to stand together with the loves we find for ourselves towards the future. An incredibly rewarding read.
Profile Image for Jenny Lawson.
Author 12 books16.9k followers
December 8, 2020
So beautifully written. It felt like part dark fairy tale mixed with absolute truths. I loved it so much that I chose it for December's Fantastic Strangeling Book Club.
Profile Image for anna (½ of readsrainbow).
569 reviews1,760 followers
December 30, 2022
rep: Syrian American trans gay mc, Syrian American gay li, Syrian sapphic mc, Syrian trans li, Syrian sapphic li, Black nonbinary character, Syrian American characters, Syrian characters
tw: islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, violence, death, blood

it's a novel about grief & pain but it's so full of beauty and hope! the tenderness of gay love & how it can feel like a miracle! transness portrayed in the most beautiful of ways! truly some of the most gorgeous & moving writing i have ever read
Profile Image for Martie Nees Record.
665 reviews135 followers
August 10, 2020
Genre: LGBTQ/Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria Books
Pub. Date: November 3, 2020

There is so much going on in this beautifully written novel. You will meet artists and three generations of Syrian American women. You will learn about French-occupied Syria during the early twentieth century, as well as a long-forgotten NYC neighborhood called Little Syria. You will also read about birds and ghosts. The author mixes up the genres. There is historical fiction, literary fiction, magical realism, coming-of-age, speculative fiction, and always LGBTQ fiction. All the main characters in this novel are queer. There are two alternating narrators, one from the late 1920s and one from the present. In the present, we meet a young trans man, who moves into his grandmother’s NYC apartment to take care of her since her health is failing. In the past, the female protagonist is also an artist. She paints mysterious birds. The three generations of Syrian Americans are linked together by their secrets, their art, and—here is the magical realism—a species of a bird that wears feathers that seem to hold the key to unlocking their secrets and allowing the characters to break free from society’s restrictions.

When the author wrote his debut novel, “Map of Salt,” he identified as a woman. He now identifies as a man. I mention this in light of the fact that the trans male protagonist talks about his confusion from when he was a child feeling extremely uncomfortable in his female body. This is written with such lucidity that one cannot help but wonder how much is fiction. The scene where the character gets his period is all-telling and so heartbreakingly sad. The child is devastated because, up until that moment, he held out hope that his true body as a male would surface. As his body conspires against him, his delighted mother says that her little girl is growing up. She tells the child that he is a woman now. To add to the child’s confusion, although he hates the feeling that his body is betraying him, he simultaneously loves the feeling of closeness that he is experiencing as his beloved mother braids his hair, sharing female pearls of wisdom now that he has a woman’s body. (When the girl grows to be the young man his mother is deceased but shows up as a ghost that he can see and talk to. It reads more sweet than weird). The author writes the child’s conflicting emotions so well that he makes you want to jump into the pages and give the child the word non-binary. My maternal instincts had me crying for the boy.

Overall, I enjoyed the Syrian immigrant experience as observed in the novel. As a native New Yorker, I loved the descriptions of Little Syria, which sounded like an Arab version of NYC’s Little Italy. I could have done without the birds, but then again I have never been a fan of magical realism. However, I did think it was clever of the author to make the trans man’s mother an ornithologist to keep the magic as believable as possible. At times, there was just too much going on in the story to hold my interest. I found myself skimming to get back to the Syrian-American experience, probably because historical fiction is my favorite genre. There is no denying Joukhadar’s talent as an author. The book could have easily been written as a boring teacher’s manual on all the themes in the novel that many of us do need to be educated on. Instead, what you get is lyrical prose that is captivating as well as informative. Still, for someone like myself who has trouble with mixed genre novels, the book wasn’t for me. Though, I feel confident that other readers and reviewers will consider it a story-telling feat.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

Profile Image for Melissa Crytzer Fry.
312 reviews335 followers
February 11, 2021
I knew I needed to read this book the minute I saw the artwork. Yep. A gorgeously rendered, watercolor bird wing. Pair that (and an elusive bird thought not to exist by science) with breathtaking writing, and I was a goner.

A description of the bird in question:

Their wingtips were glossy blue-black, shimmering like the bellies of spiders; others said the white bodies and black markings were a myth, and that the only thing to interrupt their black plumage, dark as the moment after lightning, were their gilded breast feathers that gleamed like coins at last light.

Birds play a central role in this book, with New York City being visited constantly by them (hummingbirds thick as bees, kites, sparrows, owls). The characters all have deep connections to birds; there are two ornithologists; a woman who rescues birds; a sister who engineered mechanical birds; artists who paint birds; sellers who seek bird art. For the avian lovers among us, this was a cornucopia of feathery delight.

The birds serve another purpose: they present a mystery in need of solving, a mystery that unravels next to a trans boy’s struggle to embrace his identity and reveal it openly, despite the feelings of betrayal by his body. The parallel stories may seem ambitious and at times the reader may not be sure just where the story is headed, but the author pulls together so many threads toward the end of the book that connect the two stories, that one can’t help but be impressed.

I confess that it did take me a bit of time to adjust to the second-person structure of both stories. The main character of the present-day story is speaking to/addressing his deceased mother throughout. The main character in the historic portion is writing to her true love (via epistolary technique of a journal).

That said, I enjoyed this book and look forward to future work!
Profile Image for Sheena.
576 reviews255 followers
November 28, 2020
The Thirty Names of The Night started off so well until after a few chapters I realized I was skimming. The writing was beautiful but it was too descriptive so I quickly lost interest. There’s too much going on with going back from present day to the past. It wasn’t a bad book but just not for me, the descriptions became lost and convoluted. There is a LOT of talking about birds, almost the whole book. I don’t find anything interesting about bird watching or drawing birds or birds in general. I do think the LGBTQ+ representation was important as if it about a transgender boy who learns that he’s not alone as he feels after losing his mother and going through a transition.

I did end up switching to audiobook and it ended up being an easier experience to get through. The second half of the book got more interested but the first half was still just too boring and focused too much on the birds. Maybe 2.5 overall for me.

Thank you very much to Atria books and Netgalley for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for DeAnn.
1,294 reviews
October 31, 2020
3.5 avian stars

I picked this one up because I really enjoyed the author’s first book “The Map of Salt and Tears.” This book has the same lyrical quality but otherwise is difficult to describe. I did enjoy learning more about Syrian Americans.

This book is set in New York and features a trans boy who is uncomfortable in his body and identity. His mother died five years before and he still sees her ghost everywhere. There are so many birds in this book! I’m not sure if they were all real birds or if some were mythical. There are a multitude of characters as well and several subplots that got to be a bit complicated to follow. There are themes of hate crimes, gentrification, and identity in this one.

There’s a side story of the journal of Laila, a Syrian American artist who has disappeared. We read along with Laila’s journal and wonder what might have happened to her and all her art. There’s a connection to the other storyline in the book and I thought it wrapped up well at the end. This was definitely a different read.

Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley for the copy of this one to read and review.
Profile Image for Sarah-Hope.
1,047 reviews86 followers
April 8, 2020
The Thirty Names of Nights is one of those books that leaves you in tears (the good kind) and makes you keep saying to those around you (if they're the patient type) "thank G-d THIS writer was born to write THIS book NOW." It's peopled with the kind of complex, diverse individuals that show up far too rarely in contemporary fiction. The cast is multi-generational, mostly Syrian-American, living in post-9/11 New York City when immigrant hopes of being embraced as part of society-at-large have been flattened, particularly so for those of Arab descent.

The characters in The Thirty Names of Night are primarily Syrian-American, but each is uncomfortably conscious of a way they don't fit in: not just in society-at-large, but also within their traditional, tightly knit immigrant community. Social expectations fall particularly heavily on women—older, first generation immigrant women; the first women born in the U.S.; and the children of these women.

The novel's three themes—the power of art, the nature of love, and gender identity— weave together in a braid both beautiful and complex. A leitmotif of birds runs throughout, adding a layer of magical realism.

All I can say is "Buy this novel! Read it slowly and savor it. Become a part of the characters' lives and journey with them." This is reading of a rare richness. Don't miss it.

I received a free electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via Nat Galley. The opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,816 reviews224 followers
November 17, 2020
'I have been waiting all my life to be seen.'

This is the story of three generations of Arab-Americans told through two timelines and through the experiences of a young trans man and a talented artist named Laila. Their two stories are intertwined in the novel, joined by their love for art and ornithology. The book is beautifully written with fascinating, heart-breaking characters. Joukhadar writes about the Arab-American experience but also about finding one's personal identity. 'I am a fool. I spent so many years feeling alone, not knowing how to ask the right questions. Even now, if I admit that I have spent a lifetime denying myself, I will also have to grieve the time I lost trying to become someone else.' There is much going on in this novel, including a bit of mystery and romance and a touch of magical realism.

I received an arc of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Many thanks.
Profile Image for Erik.
331 reviews206 followers
March 22, 2021
The Thirty Names of Night is a magical, cross-generational tale of transition and migration.

The narrator of this book begins nameless, unsure of themself as they care for their ailing grandmother and mourns the death of their mother at the hands of an islamaphobic attack. Their mother, an ornithologist, has left her with an interest both in her Syrian past and in birds. Each chapter of this book oscillates between the present, where the narrator struggles with their own gender identity and place in the world, and the past where an artist, Laila Z, also a Syrian migrant in the 1930s, finds herself confronted with a mystical westward migrating bird. The narrator eventually becomes Nadir and transitions into his true self and a boy identity and Laila Z fades into history as the last remnants of Little Syria in Manhattan are about to be demolished by developers.

Capturing the beauty and complexity of Zeyn Joukhadar's incredible novel is hard. The book starts slow but once it picks up you'll be hooked. Though at times some of the discussions on race feel out of place and not integrated into the story, most of the book is seamless in its discussion of gender, immigration, gentrification, and transness. The Thirty Names of Night really is a special and beautiful tale: don't be discouraged by the beginning slowness of this book or you'll miss out on the incredible story that unfolds.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,164 reviews52 followers
March 20, 2020
Thank you, Netgalley and Atria Books, for giving me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

If I rated books based on good intentions, five stars wouldn't be enough for "The Thirty Names of Night." Mr. Joukhadar wants to celebrate the Muslim trans/LBGT community, honor immigrants of color, mourn a lost New York demolished in the name of progress, and educate the reader about the many spectacular species of birds in both the Middle East and North America, and probably a couple of other worthy causes I didn't notice.

Are you getting the sense that Mr. Joukhadar is trying to do too much? So did I.

To his credit, though, the strain of effort is evident in the story, not the language, which is gorgeous throughout "The Thirty Names of Night," even as he switches between narrators: a Syrian -born painter who emigrates to America during the Depression, and a contemporary transgender artist mourning her mother, an ornithologist who died in a hate crime. Both characters have distinct but lovely voices, and if nothing else, "The Thirty Names of Night" offers the pleasure of their company. But . . . their stories intertwine in a semi-plausible but semi-Dickensian and, it must be said, entirely predictable fashion, as if the author loves his characters so much he can't let them suffer too greatly. There's also the fact that Mr. Joukhadar's intricate, languid prose drains some of the urgency from his complicated story: the bombing of an Arab-owned storefront is described in the same deliberate pace as is learning a teta's (grandmother's) recipe for Turkish delight. Still . . . I feel like I've just spent a couple of days in a world that's strange and familiar at the same time, and there's something a little magical about that.
Profile Image for Casey the Reader.
257 reviews68 followers
November 14, 2020
Thanks to Atria Books for the free advance copy of this book.

📚 Beautiful writing, particularly the descriptions of birds and the paintings of them.
📚 This is an #ownvoices book, and the portrayal of a trans boy who isn't out yet feels so real - the delicacy of the situation is tangible.
📚 The way the two storylines interweaved was masterful, and I was in tears at the end.
📚 I don't think I've ever read a story about a queer Syrian American and I'm so glad this book exists now.
📚 I just cannot find the words to adequately express to you how beautiful THE THIRTY NAMES OF NIGHT is. Please read it if you can.

Content warnings: miscarriage, deadnaming, Islamophobia, animal death, death, grief, xenophobia, transphobia, sexual assault.
786 reviews17 followers
December 19, 2020
This book is very lyrical and poetic, but the plot is sketchy and hard to follow. It is not clear that the main character is transgender or what the significance of the found book is. The street scenes of New York are interesting but the storyline is too vague and slow moving to keep my attention.
163 reviews12 followers
February 2, 2021
This book is astoundingly beautiful. The writing is gorgeous. I had some trouble with the structure, however, that is why a 4 rather than a 5+. It's a book I might read again. There is so much information, so much emotion and so much beauty.
Profile Image for Marzie.
1,118 reviews92 followers
November 22, 2020
Trying to summarize this novel would be futile because any attempt wouldn't capture the lyrical nature of Joukhadar's writing, or his seemingly effortless ability, as in his first novel, A Map of Salt and Stars to find connections or mirrors between past and present, but I'll give it a shot.

With The Thirty Names of Night Zeyn Joukhadar confirms his standing as a powerful Arab American writer. In a layered and luminous novel, Joukhadar gives voice to multiple generations living the Arab immigrant experience, to queer voices, and the power of names. Equal parts historical fiction, ghost story, and an account of the obsessive search for rare birds that only birders can fully appreciate, The Thirty Names of Night gives us a protagonist on the cusp of transformation. Five years after the untimely death of his ornithologist mother, a closeted transboy, an artist who is visited nightly by his mother's ghost, follows an owl and comes across the diary of Laila Z., a painter whose images of birds were his mother's favorite. The treasured diary sends him on a journey that ultimately helps him express his authentic self, and pursue the mystery of Laila Z., a woman who lived a secret life as well.

This is a rich and multi-faceted story woven with a thread of folklore. The rare bird that is central to this story is linked by its name Geronticus simurghus to the Simurgh, a mythical bird mentioned in Sufi poetry. The Simurgh is used as a metaphor for God in Sufi writings and is also akin to a phoenix in Iranian folklore. Here signified by an ibis-like bird, both the protagonist's mother and Laila Z. saw the same rare creatures. As a metaphor for seeing God, seeing the truth, this is a beautiful way of bringing about one's own truth, of Nadir's choosing his name.

This novel is just filled with lyricism, life, and the undying nature of love.
Profile Image for Sanjida.
379 reviews29 followers
December 13, 2020
I have such mixed feelings about this novel. On the one hand, it's a significant, landmark portrayal of the Syrian Arab community in New York City, and queerness within that community, through the perspective of a transmasc individual coming to terms with their/his identity and coming out to others in their circle. Written during the US administration hostile to both Syrian immigrants and trans folk, this story shows through two time periods that both communities, and their intersection, have had long histories in this country.

On the other hand, I couldn't get past all the birds, and could not care about the actual storyline here. And the minor characters, particularly the love interest and the sister, were undeveloped. And the politics were lazy.

If this book sounds interesting to you, I would not be dissuaded by my 3 stars; I bet many of you would appreciate this book.
Profile Image for Sage Agee.
130 reviews413 followers
November 30, 2021
unbelievably underrated. If you like beautiful prose, exploration of identity that intersects generations and topics of gentrification and the racism against Syrian Americans in the US all while holding seemingly impossible amounts of tenderness, you're gonna love it.

cw: menstrual bleeding/ birth control issues (which was a weirdly specific thing for me to read but I am grateful for it), transphobia, misgendering, homophobia, racism, gentrification of Little Syria in NYC, death of a parent, stillbirth, traumatic birth on page.
Profile Image for MeMe.
207 reviews26 followers
May 17, 2021
Zeyn Joukhadar has composed an excellent novel that is ideal for the occasions we are living in. The Thirty Names of Night mixes two stories into one. Flawlessly composed, peculiar, tragic, this novel investigates love, craftsmanship, birds, New York City, the evacuee experience, misfortune, and demise, and it's radiant with birds! This epic is an excursion. One of eccentricity, outsiders, transgenders, love, battles, misfortune, culture, and family. The sentences are made with incredible consideration and the climate they make is enchanted.
Profile Image for Shirleynature.
199 reviews59 followers
September 17, 2021
Zeyn Joukhadar is a visionary writer; I have much to contemplate.
I am compelled to reveal the ending is hopeful rather than tragic!

Awards: Lambda Literary Awards: Transgender / Bisexual / GenderQueer
Stonewall Book Awards: Barbara Gittings Literature Award

Here is a fun interview, but beware for spoilers! Addie Tsai interviews Zeyn Joukhadar – Honey Lit https://honeyliterary.com/2021/07/09/...
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