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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 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 had their ancestral home in Beirut—a constant touchstone—and the complicated, messy family love that binds them. But following his father's recent death, Idris, the family's new patriarch, has decided to sell. The decision brings the family to Beirut, where everyone unites against Idris in a fight to save the house. They all have secrets—lost loves, bitter jealousies, abandoned passions, deep-set shame—that distance has helped smother. But in a city smoldering with the legacy of war, an ongoing flow of refugees, religious tension, and political protest, those secrets ignite, imperiling the fragile ties that hold this family together.   In a novel teeming with wisdom, warmth, and characters born of remarkable human insight, award-winning author Hala Alyan shows us again that “fiction is often the best filter for the real world around us” (NPR).


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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 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 had their ancestral home in Beirut—a constant touchstone—and the complicated, messy family love that binds them. But following his father's recent death, Idris, the family's new patriarch, has decided to sell. The decision brings the family to Beirut, where everyone unites against Idris in a fight to save the house. They all have secrets—lost loves, bitter jealousies, abandoned passions, deep-set shame—that distance has helped smother. But in a city smoldering with the legacy of war, an ongoing flow of refugees, religious tension, and political protest, those secrets ignite, imperiling the fragile ties that hold this family together.   In a novel teeming with wisdom, warmth, and characters born of remarkable human insight, award-winning author Hala Alyan shows us again that “fiction is often the best filter for the real world around us” (NPR).

18 review for The Arsonists' City

  1. 5 out of 5

    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 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 wrong doing.   Within in a few short pages she built tension,  introduced a religious war, created a character to care about, introduced two others by association, and revealed a pivotal event which would change many lives.   Part One was a complete change of pace from the Prologue.   It quickly became apparent Alyan's story had leapt forward by thirty or forty years as readers were introduced to three siblings,  Ava, Mimi and Naj.    We come to understand they're the adult offspring of Mazna and Idris the two others mentioned in the Prologue.     Not only do we find out their secrets and inner thoughts but we learn something of their backgrounds and their present day lives.    Alyan has an incredible talent for creating realistic and delightfully flawed characters with such depth to each one.   As readers you may cheer on or be appalled by their actions but you can't fail to feel the tug and pull of their desires and appreciate the mindset that lead them to behave that way. As the story progressed it alternated between the present and the past.   We hear how and why Mazna and Idris married, how he'd been granted asylum and moved to America.    Individually they dreamed big.   Idris was to become a heart specialist whilst Mazna yearned for Hollywood.     Acting was the thing for which she'd achieved a small measure of success in Damascus and she hoped to put this artistic talent to good use in America.    Unfortunately, assimilation was not so easy.     For much of the present day storyline the Nasr family were all together in Beirut.   Back in the family home for one last time before Idris sells it.      This alone was a divisive issue but as is often the case when families spend extended periods of time together things are off key.     They grated on each other.   They squabbled.   Long repressed jealousies and resentments rose to the surface.     A recurring theme throughout was  "People deserve to have their secrets" and my goodness did this family have plenty.      From lies of omission to outright deceptions.    This family's love for each other was complex but as they spent more time together in miniscule ways they seemed to be gelling and getting closer. Like the Nasr family the story was complex and multilayered and I've struggled to do justice to this book as there were so many topics I wanted to touch upon.    The lasting impacts of war and the lives of refugees.    The loneliness of moving to a faraway land,  the immigrant experience of never truly and fully assimilating due to cultural differences.   The need for secrets and dramatic steps taken to keep them.  The joys of being blessed with artistic talents and the disappointments and frustrations of having to suppress these same qualities.    So many missed opportunities and loves lost.   I was moved by the story and the writing and would encourage other readers to give this book a try.     Meanwhile I'll be watching out for any future book Alyan writes.  She's not to be missed. Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for the opportunity of reading this digital ARC in exchange for an honest review which it was my pleasure to provide. 4.5 stars on Goodreads

  2. 5 out of 5

    fanna

    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 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 development where everyone's lives and paths are carefully dissected through secrets being unravelled, paramount love and loss, and the sense of belonging through ancestral bonds, this story wonderfully represents each scratched piece of a family puzzle in the manner they don't always align but are still connected through a thread of familial devotion that stretches across time, space, and generations. Understandably slow paced since the commitment to bringing these characters alive through the pages is evident, and the heartache that perpetuates from chaos and destruction in a place one's ancestors breathed in, a place one calls home, and a place where one belongs, is raw and real. Further strengthened by beautiful prose that surprisingly jumped timelines and shifted narrators with ease, this literary fiction is worth reading. ↣ an early digital copy received via netgalley but review remains uninfluenced. ↢ blog | ko-fi | twitter May 25, 2020: I've just got an early copy of this and I'm so excited to dive into this possibly emotional Arab-American representation. Thank you, Netgalley & HMH Books! April 18, 2020: Give me some Middle-Eastern rep and I'll be a happy person.

  3. 5 out of 5

    AnnaLuce

    / / / Read more reviews on my blog / / 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 identities, and a gl / / / Read more reviews on my blog / / 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 identities, and a glimpse into Lebanon and Syria's complex pasts and presents. The prologue opens up with the death of a young man. The narrative then introduces us to the Nasrs' 'children'. There is Ava, the eldest, the only one in the family who is not driven by ambition or particularly cares to be in the spotlight. Although she's quite content with her job as a microbiology teacher, her marriage is undergoing a rough patch. her relationship with Nate, her husband, is undergoing a rough patch. We then have Mimi, their mother's golden boy, whose musical career never truly kicked off. As Mimi's bandmates get younger and younger, and his peers are getting married and having children, he feels stuck. Naj, the youngest and the only one who lives outside America, is part of a successful musical duo. In Beirut, she feels free to do as she wishes. Her family don't know she's gay and Naj isn't keen on abandoning her party lifestyle. Over the years the siblings have drifted away from each other. Seemingly out of the blue their father, Iris, a heart surgeon, decides to sell his family home in Beirut. After this sudden decision, the Nasr are reunited in Beirut. Close proximity reignites deep-rooted jealousies and brings to the light old family secrets and betrayals. Their feelings towards each other, and themselves, are complicated, messy. They bicker a lot, snitch on each other (often to their mother), and, in general, don't have the easiest time together. However, as Alyan so brilliantly demonstrates, family bonds, however thorny or challenging, can be a true source of happiness or comfort. Their reunion in Beirut happens quite later on in the narrative. Before that, we delve into Ava, Mimi, and Naj's everyday realities. From their romantic relationships to their sex lives and careers. Alyan also provides us with glimpses into the lives of the people around them—their partners, colleagues, friends, bandmates—so that we end up with a rich cast of characters. Each of the children reacts differently to their father's decision. Ava and Mimi are initially unwilling to go to Beirut but are ultimately worn down by their mother's unrelenting recriminations. Naj isn't particularly happy at the news either as she feels quite possessive of her life in Beirut. The narrative then transports us to Damascus, in the 1960s. Their mother, Mazna, falls in love with the theatre and begins to dream about a future as a renowned actor. The Lebanese Civil War is the background to Mazna's chapters which heavily focus on her acting experiences. She befriends Idris, aka her future husband, who is Syrian and his close friend Zakaria, who is Palestinian and lives in a refugee camp. The remainder of the novel moves between the present, with the family reunited in Beirut, and the past, where we read of Mazna and Idris' early days of marriage and of their eventual migration to California. Most of the characters make bad choices, they hurt the ones they love, they are unsatisfied by the direction their lives are taking (both Mazna and Mimi's careers never truly resemble what they'd envisioned), and they either cheat or are cheated on. I appreciated how each character has to deal with failure or heartbreak, either as a direct consequence of their actions or due to circumstances out of their control. I also liked how realistic the children's relationship with one another was. Alyan gives her characters both individual and shared history, which makes them feel all the more authentic. Alyan also brings her settings to life, for better or worse. What felt a tad unnecessary was the extensive forays into Mazna's past. She wasn't a particularly likeable or sympathetic character (my favourite was probably Harper, Mimi's Texan girlfriend). For their flaws, I found myself much more interested in the lives of her children. The story at times felt a tad too melodramatic, especially in regards to certain 'revelations and all that cheating. I swear the Nasrs' are a family of cheaters. It got kind of repetitive (wow, quelle surprise, someone is cheating/being cheated on, yet again). There was an odd line sexualising a child which felt a bit...yuckish? And one that gave me incest-y vibes, which was also pretty unecessary. Despite all that, I remained enthralled by Alyan's storytelling and piercing observations. Her dialogues ring true to life and the character dynamics are very compelling. With the tone of Elif Shafak The Saint of Incipient Insanities and the scope of Roopa Farooki's The Good Children, The Arsonists' City offers its readers a captivating and intricate family saga populated by nuanced characters and deeply rooted in Lebanon and Syria's histories and cultures. In spite of its length (the audiobook is over 19 hours) The Arsonists' City proved to be a gripping read one that I might even re-read. ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Absolutely fantastic… Review soon!!! UPDATE REVIEW.... 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 Absolutely fantastic… Review soon!!! UPDATE REVIEW.... 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, failings, shame, love, desire, dreams, disappointments, trust, language, skin color, personality dispositions, assumptions, sacrifices, rivalries, envy, expectations, shocking discoveries, realizations, acceptance, forgiveness, ....written with psychological depth and understanding of human conditions, our relationship with home, and the world we live in. The storytelling is SOOOOO GOOD! Soooo thoroughly enjoyable!!! ......and the characters have funny names... I was chatting with Cheri yesterday ( Goodreads friend), about this book - how good it was - but the thought of writing a review sounded like torture.....( turns out it’s not really so bad when in the right space). But I told Cheri I was only going to write a ‘one’ sentence review: The one sentence review would have been: “There are a lot of people doing a lot of things.....hiding a lot of things”....and it’s fantastic”. The end! But... I got my walk in today - [8.7 miles],....so, what the heck else was I going to do today? So......I tried to write a review ‘like-a-grownup’. 😊 Here it is: At the center of this international family story....between the United States, Syria and Lebanon, [Beirut, Damascus, California, Brooklyn, and Austin], is the Nasr family. Idris Nasr, cardiac surgeon, is Lebanese. His wife Mazna is Syrian. Their three adult children were born and raised in America. If I HAD.. to pick one character....and say...WHO DID THIS STORY BELONG TO MOST? .....I’m going with Mazna (wife, mother, an actress at heart)....but I won’t say ‘why’.... ( could be a spoiler)... But....each of the other characters could have been the leading soloist ‘show-off’...just as easily! At the very start of this novel, [1978] we learn of a murder....an assignation of Palestinian, Zakaria, in a refugee camp in Beirut. “Tonight the man will die”. ..... Idris and Zakaria had been best friends growing up in Beirut.....but ‘tonight’.... [the night Zakaria, dies....a victim of a retaliation/revenge killing during the civil war in Lebanon], Idris had stopped speaking with him. They had a recent fight. “The insults they’d hurled at each other still echoing, each saying and not-saying the truth”. The war changed people..... the war changed Zakaria....who considered himself a good man. He said he only did three terrible things in his life”: ....1. at age 13, Zakaria stole items of little value from others in the refugee camps....where he spent 25 years of his life. (he was also the son of a housekeeper mother — Zakaria’s link in meeting Idris, his best friend). ....2. Zakaria betrayed Idris. He fell in love with Mazna, Idris’s girlfriend. ....3. Zakaria was at wrong place at the wrong time: resulted in death. The dramatic ‘death’ beginning....directly and indirectly affects every member of the Nasr family.....so pay attention. In time the connections comes together. Idris married Mazna (a thespian in her youth in Beirut), after Zakaria died. They’ve been married for forty years -living in California. They have three adult children: Small tidbits about the adult children are just the small tips of an iceberg: ....Ava, 40 years of age, a microbiologist, University professor, lives in Brooklyn, is the oldest daughter. She’s married to Caucasian American, Nate, and suspects he’s having an affair. They have two children....and a dwindling sex life. Ava’s sexual fantasies have turned to a Nigerian instructor at her spin class. ....Mimi, (yep, a guys name: unusual in my thinking too, but his birth name is really Marwan), 32 year of age, lives in Austin, recently was dumped from the band he started, is a chef in a restaurant, but would rather be known as a master virtuoso, and..... ha: > he cheated on his girlfriend. ....Naj, almost 30 years of age, an international famous singer/musician, - mostly in Beirut., is gay, but has not told her parents. Idris and Mazna have a family house in Beirut. Even though the family had been living in the United States for about 40 years, there had been summer vacations in Beirut....yet, not for many years. Idris wants to sell the house. Mazna doesn’t want to go alone with just her husband- she was begging -literally begging her kids to join. So, after much dialogue of bickering and resisting, ( juicy engaging good bickering), the adult kids and parents meet in Beirut.....under one roof, for the first time in many years. I was wishing them good luck and secretly wishing an “under-one-roof” reunion with our own adult kids and son-in-law. The momentum of unfolding - those hidden secrets come to the surface at the end.... Dark emotions are reveal.....but it’s a satisfying ending .... With all the ‘grown-up’ complexities and complications.... there is a lot humor...sometimes sarcasm humor....in the dialogue throughout .... GREAT NOVEL! An easy 5 stars

  5. 5 out of 5

    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 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 humanity, immigration, and reconciliation that as a 30-something, I could appreciate, and hey, we are all adults here. I was originally interested in this book because allegedly my grandfather was a random Syrian exchange student’s brother, and I sometimes feel interested in Syrian books assuming he came from the actual motherland. So let’s just discuss content first because it’ s the first thing that anyone reading the book encounters.  A man is murdered in the prologue, and it sets the whole book up to be super dramatic and interesting and I am thinking “oh boy this is going to be good!!”  Then the next thing you know one of the characters is on her stomach thinking about a deflated condom, like, shit.  So now I have to remember her depressing sex life throughout the rest of the book, and it’s a theme through all the characters’ chapters, including a heavy discussion of the gay sibling’s sexuality, which is tied to Beirut’s youth culture in general somehow. Between that and pretty much everyone either contemplating or committing adultery at some point, I am like… Well sex is not what I want to read, and it’s depressing. But it’s part of life, which along with death, are major themes of the book.  Idris and Mazna immigrated to America on asylum when he started his surgical residency, leaving his ancestral house behind.  Years later once Idris’ father dies and the house is empty of family he decides to sell it – which brings the scattered family all back together.  In Beirut.  For one very enlightening summer. Each of the three siblings and Mazna the mother, were the chapter points of view. This sorted into the present (the kids) and past (Mazna).  It is always interesting to see people struggle bus through their 30s in slice of life style, because that’s me, but a big part of me just didn’t care.  Mazna’s story was legitimately interesting with her life between Damascus and Beirut, and seeing the war, plus being brown in America once they immigrated.  None of the characters were really likeable for me though, like I wanted to like Mazna but she’s so stubborn and then hooked up with that film guy, plus she took Idris (a heart surgeon) for a total moron. The book spent a LOT of time building each character. It is kind of the point of the book, but some parts involving the siblings were just boring to me.  I didn’t care about Marwan’s band or Ava’s cheating husband, or even Naj, even though she had the most interesting life by far it was all flings and drugs and music. Once they got to Beirut and all the secrets started coming out, it got more interesting.   There were so many side characters mentioned too that I just couldn’t keep track… Many of them not horribly relevant but still.   I can relate a lot of the book to real life though – for example – being entitled to our secrets, and maybe not needing to know all of our parent’s secrets.  Also learning that we (as adults) are maybe a little bit more like them than we like to admit. I know this is a book that a lot of people are loving for Alyan’s fantastic writing style and the story of love, loss, immigration, and familial reconciliation that she tells, and I don’t blame them at all. I think fans of the genre will love this. I just found it to be a 12 day long snooze fest when the kids were featured and I was limited to one rather long chapter at a time.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Swati

    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 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 three children Ava, Mimi, and Naj – to come together for a couple of weeks. From here, we are taken into the stories of each of these people, how they came to be where they are, and what lies ahead for them. The Arsonists’ City is a gorgeously character-driven book and Alyan draws each of them with fine brushstrokes. Of all the sub-plots related to each person, I loved Mazna and Zakaria’s the most with its bittersweet, heartbreaking story. Alyan’s character construction is so intricate and detailed that at the end of the book, I felt like I knew each of them personally, as if I was in on their secrets and their innermost thoughts. But what I enjoyed, nay, relished was Alyan’s storytelling, the slow build up, teasing out gentle bends and folds in people. There were parts where I wished it to move faster, and some plot points that seemed to be purposeless, not going anywhere. My interest was sustained through these places only due to her exquisite writing, which made me forget my quibbles. The book's setting in Beirut and Damascus in the 1960s was very interesting and gave me a peek into the cultural milieu of a country you otherwise don't come across commonly. If you enjoy layered, multi-generational family stories with some scintillating prose, pick this up now. Thanks to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the copy!

  7. 5 out of 5

    ↠Ameerah↞

    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. 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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Etaf Rum

    “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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    “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 “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, rivalries, shame and desires—and mixes it with the external world of smoldering tensions, class differences, the ongoing Lebanese Civil War, the difficulties inherent in uprooting to another country. The result is a page-turning saga of fully fleshed characters who are coping with complicated relationships and the debris of lost dreams and ambitions. Particularly riveting is the triangle of the patriarch and matriarch of this family, Mazna and Idris and their back story that includes their Palestinian friend Zakaria. Close friend to Idris, love interest to Mazna, this hypnotic man lives on and casts a wide shadow over their marriage—even though we, the readers, know from the first few pages that he is killed. Their adult children are all on the cusp of a decision: Ava, who is married to a WASP from a prominent family who is processing her husband’s short-lived affair, Mimi, a musician who has just walked away from the rock band he founded, and his more successful sister, Naj, who enjoys a stellar music career in Beirut and is dealing with the emergence of her one-time lover. “We don’t choose what we belong to. What claims us,” Mazda reflects at one point in the novel. This novel has it all – powerful characters, a mesmerizing plot, and even the fig leaf of redemption. I felt as if I had lost something when I had to step away from the characters I had grown to care for by the end of the book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bookish Bullsh*t

    "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 "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 it too low because I want to be fair to the author; this is a genuinely good book. But I didn't want to rate it too high because I want my ratings to match my reading tastes because I now have some amazing friends who read my reviews (looking at you Jess, if you're not reading this consider me disappointed). I don't want to mislead anyone who has similar tastes in books as me. (I've apparently convinced some people to read some books, which is amazing, but I'm paranoid of this kind of power) Premise- "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 had their ancestral home in Beirut—a constant touchstone—and the complicated, messy family love that binds them. But following his father's recent death, Idris, the family's new patriarch, has decided to sell. The decision brings the family to Beirut, where everyone unites against Idris in a fight to save the house. They all have secrets—lost loves, bitter jealousies, abandoned passions, deep-set shame—that distance has helped smother. But in a city smoldering with the legacy of war, an ongoing flow of refugees, religious tension, and political protest, those secrets ignite, imperiling the fragile ties that hold this family together." We follow 4 perspectives- Mazna, a young and beautiful woman from a poor family, with big dreams of Hollywood and becoming an actress. Ava, Mimi, and Naj. Mazna's kids, summoned back to Beirut as mentioned above. I'd recommend this book to you if- - you are a character-driven reader. This is VERY much, a character-driven book. The character work is one of the best I've seen. Definitely in the top 15. I have a feeling that I will bring along a part of Mazna with me in my memories. She is just so real. If you'd like to analyze character motivations, their emotions; delve into what makes them tick, their fears, their joy. I'd honestly believe you if you said "These characters are real people." - You are patient for the tea. There are quite a few betrayals, and a few heartaches (under hyping this one). But it takes quite a few pages (about a few hundred) to get there. After introducing the characters, the author takes her sweet time exploring the character's life story. The water has been set in the kettle, explores the character work before you get burned with scalding hot, sweet, and JUICY tea. I am a nosy person so I liked the reveals, but it takes a bit too long for me to love it. - You have the time. This is a relatively slow-paced book (I had a few issues with it but I'll discuss it later) This is definitely a spring/summer book, which is a great move on the publisher's part because this book comes out in March. Read slowly, enjoy the atmosphere, read in a preferably a breezy area. Let the book lead your mind. I personally didn't like this book as much I expected to, because I anticipated a fast-paced family drama with reveals and turns left and right. But here, it's a bit slower paced. The interesting thing about this book is, that it builds up the twists right in front of you, and it teases you and builds suspense on how other characters will react to it. I was not a big fan of the pacing but I'm not gonna lie, it dragged a lot through the middle. There was a purpose to it, the character work is amazing but I wish it was more balanced but the author clearly succeeded on what they intended to do, so I'm not gonna spend more time on that. My biggest issue with the book is the formatting. BUT, they did mention that the book will be going through more editing, so hopefully, it won't be an issue anymore when it gets published. The book is kinda on the bigger side of the general fiction page count. The book is formatted as such. There is one storyline of a portion of the character's life. This part takes about 50-80 pages. This part is divided into bite-sized passages which adds to this part and by extension the story. My issue here is, this is kinda too long. I was more interested in Mazna's POV, I was less interested in the other POVs and got frustrated when it went of for pages upon pages. The shift from one POV to the other is pretty jarring because the character voices and narrative is so different (which is a good thing, but it contrasted with this negatively). Sometimes it went on for so long, I kinda forgot what was happening on the other "plot thread". I just think that smoothing these out would do the book a lot of favors. Sorry for the rant, onto what I liked. The characters (obviously) The writing. There are just some nuggets here, that hit so deep. It is poetic in a straightforward manner. I love the way the author handles the characters. In front of you; the character dreams and dares to hope, but you know how it turns out from the other (future) POV. Not gonna delve too deep because I'm terrified of accidentally spoiling anyone. This review is not as clear and articulate as I'd like it to be, or as much as my other reviews but it is what it is; my brain vomit. I found it hard to write this review because I have too many thoughts on this book for it to be a coherent review. I tried; read it if you want to. If you have read this far, thank you very much. Happy reading.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    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. 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Seema Rao

    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.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Sieloff

    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 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 much as it's relationship-driven. Its in these details that the story moves forward. Set in Damascus, Beirut, and Blyth California, this is a story of multiple generations tied together by secrets. Idris, a doctor living in California with his wife Mazna, has decided he needs to sell his childhood home in Beirut, following the passing of his father. Mazna insists that their children Ava, in Brooklyn, and Mimi, in Austin bring their families to Beirut to hold a memorial service. The youngest child, Naj already lives there, as she is a wildly famous musician. The trip happens, and from here we dive into the complicated pasts and presents of each member of their family, where secrets are revealed and others are kept. We seem to spend the most time with Mazna, as her actions tend to drive the story. We meet her as a young, poor, stunningly beautiful woman desperate to become an actress. She falls in love and this changes the course of her life. We meet Mimi, who is struggling to find himself and his place in the world. He is overshadowed by his younger sister's musical career, but doesn't know quite where he should dedicate his time. Naj may have been my favorite character. She is passionate and indulgent, and while she may seem lost, she is the most driven of the siblings. She feels completely, and is the truest to herself, even when she wants to escape. Ava surprised me. There were details in each character that were a surprise, and made them feel more real. The fact that she was a poker player was more than an interesting detail; it gave a well-placed indication of why she acted and reacted the way she did. I initially got the impression that Idris wasn't as deep as the other characters, or that his life view was more simple, but as the story grew, it was clear he understood more than he tended to let on. The characters are so well-developed, and the author moves gently between each one, allowing them to breath and exist. They are raw and emotional, with real human energy. I often found myself believing that one character would be the lead of the story, but because each character had such depth, that image of each shifted into being. The Syrian-Lebanon war acts as almost another character, ever present throughout the generational story. Even the supporting characters are well-written and interesting. Jo, Fee, Nate, Sara, Merry, and others are given their own rich stories. The book moves throughout time periods, giving us different views into the motivations and movements of each character, in a way that seemed natural. It allowed the reader to be surprised to have the insight that explained plot lines already introduced. As I got to the final chapters, I was holding my breath, afraid each one would be the last chapter, until it was. When I wasn't actively reading the book, I was thinking about the characters. This is one of those books that sits with you, which is really the best sort of book. I'm excited for this book to come out - I want to recommend it to friends, and I hope it gets the excellent press it deserves. *I did notice several typos in the version I received, and I hope they will be edited by the time this goes to print*

  14. 4 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    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 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 met through friends, and Idris fell instantly for Mazna when he saw her onstage. Now it is (pre-pandemic) contemporary times, and Mazna and Idris have lived in Blythe, California for nearly four decades, and their three children are scattered around the globe. This is their story. The Nasr family FaceTimes and Zooms, calls and texts each other, from a distance, but the secrets they carry erect an invisible wall that they hide behind, and from one another. But now Idris’ father has died, and he wants to sell the ancestral home in Beirut. The urgency and the looming past create a reluctant gathering at the old house. The prologue, as well as subsequent chapters, often gives away a climactic event, so it isn’t about “What is going to happen?” Rather, the intrigue lies in the reactions, conflicts, and fears when secrets are mounting to the surface. Events are periodically predictable, but it doesn’t diminish the tension. It’s all about the characters and theme. Can you go home? What is home? How do shameful secrets destroy you, and when is it fitting to reveal these buried skeletons? Who can you trust, and have you betrayed or been betrayed? How does trauma affect the next generation? The narrative alternates characters and time periods, gradually filling in everyone’s backstory. Mazna’s story is the most blistering and dramatic. ARSONIST’S CITY is epic, emotional, tragic, and redemptive. Ava is the oldest child of Mazna and Idris, a mother of two little ones, struggling in her marriage. The middle child, Naj, left America for Beirut after graduating college, and became a celebrity rock star. But she knows the industry is fickle, whimsical. Moreover, she keeps secrets from her family, and sleeps around a lot. Mimi is the boy, the baby, but as an adult he is flailing in Austin, trying to make it as a musical artist, but jealously not up to his sister’s talent. His relationship with his long-time girlfriend, Harper, is stagnant. Mazna, Idris, and their three kids (and Ava’s two children and Harper) meet in Beirut in the house that Idris grew up in and wants to sell. However, the rest of the family conflicts with Idris, are horrified, and want the home to stay in the family. Throughout this summer of togetherness, the narrative reaches down deeper, and mines their lives, past and present. But it is Mazna’s story that gives the narrative its heft. And, even as she grew up during war between Syria and Lebanon, and the occupation of Beirut by Syria, Mazna experiences the war from a place of safety, as if she is witnessing a ten-car pileup outside the window of her own intact vehicle. This story isn’t about war, but it is part of the landscape and affects all its citizens. Mazna dreams of a career in America, a place she can be a serious thespian and play any role. “Films make people sad, Mazna is slowly understanding. They remind people of a time that is over or a time they’ve never been part of…Theater is the same. It’s heartbreaking because it will end, because people will become a part of the story and then be abandoned by it. She’s aware of this during rehearsals as she repeats the same lines…learning to let her hands flutter naturally, playing with tone and volume. She’s lying to a roomful of people. She is going to break their hearts.” Read it and weep!

  15. 4 out of 5

    KarenK

    I received this from Netgalley.com. "The Nasr family is spread across the globe—Beirut, Brooklyn, Austin, the California desert. All have lived a life of migration but they’ve always had their ancestral home in Beirut." A slow paced story which felt a bit dragged out. 3☆ I received this from Netgalley.com. "The Nasr family is spread across the globe—Beirut, Brooklyn, Austin, the California desert. All have lived a life of migration but they’ve always had their ancestral home in Beirut." A slow paced story which felt a bit dragged out. 3☆

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elle

    *Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt & Netgalley for an advance copy!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Adeel

    The Arsonists City is a multi-generational story that focuses on the Nasar family. After the death of his father, Nasar, a cardiologist, is the new patriarch of the family. Thus, he decides now is the time to go back to Beirut(Lebanon) to sell their ancestral home. His wife, Mazna is Syrian and a former actress. Mazna decides to coax her children Mimi, Ava, and Naj to come along as well. However, these three siblings have a very detached relationship. They haven't seen each other in a long time The Arsonists City is a multi-generational story that focuses on the Nasar family. After the death of his father, Nasar, a cardiologist, is the new patriarch of the family. Thus, he decides now is the time to go back to Beirut(Lebanon) to sell their ancestral home. His wife, Mazna is Syrian and a former actress. Mazna decides to coax her children Mimi, Ava, and Naj to come along as well. However, these three siblings have a very detached relationship. They haven't seen each other in a long time and are busy with their own hectic lives; living under the same roof isn't something they thought would happen any time soon. The siblings don't want their father to sell their family home and decide to come along to change his mind. What follows is each of these complex characters coming to terms with the past, its secrets, and where they want to be in the future. Where shall I start? I mean it would be so easy for me to just call it a day and say "hey buy this book now it's amazing!!!" But the fun comes with reeling you all in with hopes that y'all will slide into my DM's like "Hey Adeel I loved this book so much! God why are you so amazing??" 😂😂. Ok let's all breath and get serious now because I am a professional! The Arsonists City was a truly captivating and extraordinary read that honestly blew me away. Everything from the writing, the characters, the emotion, and the tension hit all of the right notes. The Nasar family remind me of lots of families within the Arab/South Asian community. Leaving things unsaid in the hopes that'll make everything better. But the more we hold things in the more likely they'll implode in our faces. Throughout the book we are given a deep look into these five members of the Nasar family. The story goes from the past to the future as we uncover what life was like for them. We see how Mazna becomes infatuated with acting and dreams to become an actress in California. We also discover how she met Idris and the heartbreak that has stayed with her for a very long time. In the present day we see Ava, Mimi, and Naj navigating through their lives and relationships. Ava, the eldest, lives in Brooklyn and is married to a dude called Nate. They're having marital issues as Nate in the past may have been unable to control his pecker. They have two children together Rayan and Zina. Then you have Mimi who lives in Austin Texas with his girlfriend Harper. For many years Mimi has been trying and struggling to reach great heights with his band Dulcet. On the other hand their younger sister Naj who lives in Beirut is killing it with her band and her music becomes heavily popular in the Middle East and around the world. She has reached heights that Mimi could only dream of. But we soon discover that she has her own struggles. I thought Hala does an exceptional job in crafting and moulding all of the characters into fine pieces of art. I loved learning about their past, their passions, and how they became who they are today. Alyan really highlights that humans are not perfect at all. Many of the characters have their own secrets, regrets, and flaws which Alyan slowly unravels. My favourite character was definitely Mazna. Her love of acting was contagious and the bittersweet romance she has with someone really broke my heart. Mazna goes through a lot in this story, from losing the love of her life and also the struggle of assimilating to life in America "The directors don't want authenticity. They don't want her accent-they want someone who speaks perfect English and can do an accent, She is too pretty for simpler roles, too dark for American parts." I also loved how vibrant and alive the locations were in which the story takes place. We go from Beirut, to Damascus, to California during the present and the past between 1960-1970s. "At this hour, the city has a narcotic effect; ambient noise drifts from the passing cabs — a French song, the sound of a man coughing, and the few people on the street share a certain camaraderie, nodding and smiling wryly at each other. Beirut is an insomniac's city, unfocused, filled with half-finished buildings and impromptu crowds." War is wreaking havoc in Beirut and the scenes Hala creates arevery intense. I still remember the tension I felt as Mazna decides to go from Beirut to Damascus with friends. I also can't forget when at one point in a bakery shop where Zakaria (best friend of Idris and Mazna) works, they're hassled by some scummy soldiers. That part really made my blood boil at how Palestinians were being treated. It's a major reminder of how bad things have gotten now in terms of immigration issues and the refugee crisis(Zakaria lives in a refugee camp). As much as I loved when the story took place in the present, there was something about the past that just kept me entranced. Alyan paints a vivid picture of the locations which kept me wanting to learn more about the countries and the situations that had occured. When considering the writing, Alyan again blew me away. Every single word just spoke to me in some way or form. There were so many times where I was moved by how the characters were feeling and what they were going through. "Grief will make you do crazy things. It will electrify the elegant. Power stem neurons in the amygdala of your brain will pluck them like an instrument". Also, even though the pacing is slow, it is necessary to slowly peel the layers in order to understand the dynamics of the Nasar family. I was so fascinated by how much depth there was in the writing of the characters, the sounds, the atmosphere, the imagery, and the history of Beirut and Damascus. The humour and emotional moments were very well balanced too. One minute I was laughing the next I was distraught at what had occured. Overall, an absolutely wonderful and beautiful story. The book has a stellar cast of characters who you can't help but love and want to know more about. I loved that the pacing was not too fast or too slow. It was well balanced as you slowly begin to learn the complexities of the Nasar family. I couldn't help but fall in love with them, even though they've cocked up a lot. It's definitely a story that will stay with me forever and a book I will recommend to everyone. I would also like to say a huge thank you to HMH books and Liz for gifting me a copy. Hand on heart, I am so so grateful to have been given the opportunity to review this book. The release date of this fantastic novel is the 9th of March 2021

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 3.75, but confounding, but rounding up. PSA: Due to technical difficulties on my iPad, I lost all my notes 70% in so this will be an abbreviated review. What to say about this book? A VERY slow read. Beautifully written. From the start, I believed I would like this book. [I did.] The setting: Basically another dysfunctional multi-generational family story told over decades with SECRETS, deceptions, grudges, and infidelities. Leban I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 3.75, but confounding, but rounding up. PSA: Due to technical difficulties on my iPad, I lost all my notes 70% in so this will be an abbreviated review. What to say about this book? A VERY slow read. Beautifully written. From the start, I believed I would like this book. [I did.] The setting: Basically another dysfunctional multi-generational family story told over decades with SECRETS, deceptions, grudges, and infidelities. Lebanon, Syria, America [Brooklyn, California, Texas]. The "prologue" [?] begins with the end of Zakaria [no spoiler--it's obvious]. Next, the novel deals briefly with the three siblings, in biological order: Ava, a scientist, living in Brooklyn, two children, maritial difficulties. Marwan [Mimi], a frustrated musician who also is a cook. Najla {Naj], a successful, gay musician, who returns to Beirut.And for a VERY LONG SEGMENT--Mazna--a wannabe actress from a poor Syrian family, who marries Idris under false pretenses [no spoiler; easy enough to figure out]. Idris is Lebanese and of means. His best friend, Zakaria, is Palestinian. [Sorry, this is all over the place as seems the book!]Idris and Mazna leave for California so that he can attend medical school. Much follows about Mazna's efforts to adjust and adapt and their changing status from poor, immigrant newlyweds to a successful doctor's family.Additional minor characters populate the narrative--all well-described, and with their own roles: in particular, Harper, Sara, Fee, Nate, Merry, Jo.Decades later, the family reunites in Beirut after Idris' father dies and he decides to sell the family home and hold a memorial service for which he mandates all must attend. Re-enter Sara, Idris' sister who was complicit in the "courtship" of Idris and Mazna, but has no role in the later narrative until they return to Beirut.The backdrop of Beirut in the late 1960s to late 1970s--jump to the present enhances the storytelling. Much of this book is about Mazna--and I believe her story went on far too long. No one is particularly likeable, IMHO. They are all quite selfish.Not linear, and easy enough to follow, but I think some editing and tightening would have enhanced this book.Nonetheless, I enjoyed the writing and many descriptions [lost in crash]. flag 2 likes · Like  · see review Feb 28, 2021 Katherine Younkin 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 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 skills to guilt and cajole her adult son and daughter to come, too. Ava, the daughter, is an academician, and Mimi (Marwan), the son, is a chef who’d like to be a successful musician. Mazna is ambivalent about the trip, knowing it will stir up old memories and feelings she thought she had put behind her. As a young adult, she was on her way to acting stardom before she married Idris and, ironically, before she moved to California, where her acting dream died.The history of the relationship between Idris and Mazna forms the core of the novel. Mazna, a Damascan, captured Idris’s attention as she performed on the stage in plays. He becomes obsessed with her and often invites her to Beirut for the weekend without her parents’ knowledge. They are an unlikely couple, a Lebanese man and a Syrian girl. In Beirut, Mazna meets Idris’s family and friends. At first, Mazna is overwhelmed with the apparent wealth of Idris’s family. She is much more comfortable with Idris’s best friend, Zacharia, raised like a brother to Idris. Mazna finds out that Zakaria is the housekeeper’s son, and when he isn’t staying with Idris, he lives in the Palestinian camps. Mazna falls for Zakaria and uses Idris’s invitations to his home to keep seeing him. This tragic love story becomes the basis for a family secret revealed when the family comes together in Beirut to sell the house years later.The love triangle is only one of the family’s secrets that is exposed. Ava finds out that her marriage is unraveling. Naj, a younger sister to Ava and Mimi who has a successful music career in Beirut, comes out as gay to her brother and sister. Mimi learns the depths of his jealousy for his sister’s music career. This is a complicated, big story with lots of characters, damaged relationships, and humorous moments. The tensions in Lebanon and Syria provide the backdrop for several love stories. I was amazed at Alyan’s ability to flesh out her characters. As you read, you feel you come to know the personalities. Her psychological insight into people is profound. I didn’t want the book to end. I want to caution readers that some may not like the rough language (mostly F-bombs) and adult situations. For me, the book was utterly absorbing. I recommend it to readers who enjoy sagas and learning about other cultures.I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. flag 4 likes · Like  · see review Mar 28, 2021 Barbara rated it really liked it Shelves: 2021-free-reads, netgalley, fiction, syria, usa, immigrant-experience This book took me a long time to get into. And even then, it felt a lot longer than it needed to be. That's not to say that it's not a good book - it is; it's a very good book. But I have to conclude it could have been twice as good if it were a third shorter. The word saga is often used for these multi-generational historic novels but I have to say I wasn't always using the S-word in a positive sense.As somebody who tried for many years to go to Lebanon and Syria (and has been to many other cou This book took me a long time to get into. And even then, it felt a lot longer than it needed to be. That's not to say that it's not a good book - it is; it's a very good book. But I have to conclude it could have been twice as good if it were a third shorter. The word saga is often used for these multi-generational historic novels but I have to say I wasn't always using the S-word in a positive sense.As somebody who tried for many years to go to Lebanon and Syria (and has been to many other countries in that region), I never managed to get there because one or other country always seemed to be fighting with one or more of its neighbours (or in the case of Lebanon, they seemed adept at fighting with themselves if nobody else was up for a conflict). This is a region I really want to know better, and I enjoyed reading about how life had treated both the well-to-do (as exemplified by Idris and his parents), the not so well-off such as Mazna, and the decidedly disadvantaged who lived in the refugee camps (Zakaria and his family). What I didn't really get was a sense of the history of conflict in the region - the times and dates all just seemed to merge.The book kicks off with patriarch Idris planning to sell the family home in Beirut, leading his wife to gather his children in a campaign to stop him. So why is the house so important to his wife who never really lived there? What secrets has she been hiding all these years? And his children all have their relationship and career disasters that tangentially touch on the old house. Next thing we know, we've shot back nearly 40 years to find out how Mazna met Idris and became mother to their three children. Honestly, this bit really felt like it dragged. She's not a very likeable character - young, selfish, entitled, and prone to exploiting those around her. Was she supposed to be the main character of the book? I'm still not entirely sure but I felt she got way more airtime than I'd have wanted.The younger generation has not followed 'traditional' routes. One is married to a well-off American man, another dates a Texan, and the third - the only one living in Lebanon - is living well outside societal 'norms'. The title's a bit weird. There is a fire but it didn't feel significant enough to have given the book its name. There are more assassins than arsonists. Just an observation.It's a good book. I enjoyed parts of it very much, but I still stand by my belief that it was way longer than it needed to be. I started this book 3 times over before I finally got into it. It's worth the effort but be warned, it's not a quick read. With thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for my copy. flag 2 likes · Like  · see review Jan 28, 2021 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it it was amazing Shelves: review-books, net-galley ‘Tonight the man will die.’Two generations of a family: a Syrian mother, a Lebanese father and three children. The Nasr family are split between Beirut and the USA, but their father’s ancestral home in Beirut has anchored them. When his father dies, Idris Nasr decides to sell the house. His wife Mazna insists that the family reunite in Beirut. She opposes the sale and wants son Mimi (Marwan) and daughter Ava to travel to Beirut, where their sister Naj lives, to try to save the house.‘Grief will ‘Tonight the man will die.’Two generations of a family: a Syrian mother, a Lebanese father and three children. The Nasr family are split between Beirut and the USA, but their father’s ancestral home in Beirut has anchored them. When his father dies, Idris Nasr decides to sell the house. His wife Mazna insists that the family reunite in Beirut. She opposes the sale and wants son Mimi (Marwan) and daughter Ava to travel to Beirut, where their sister Naj lives, to try to save the house.‘Grief will make you do crazy things.’Everyone does as Mazna requests (who could resist the pressure she applies?), and we learn about the past, about the secrets that each holds close. Typical family tensions are underlined (and relationships sometimes undermined) by the past, by war, religious differences, and regrets.We learn of Mazna’s dreams and disappointments, of a life straddling two cultures and being unable to settle completely in either. The pace is slow, each character’s story unfolds gradually. Beirut is not the same city that Idris and Mazna left and, without their grandfather, it holds different memories for Ava and Mimi. Naj lives in Beirut and her life is complicated.Through these characters, we see the dislocation caused by war and by migration, and the disconnect between dreams and reality. Ms Alyan brings her characters to life: flawed and vulnerable as they map their own relationships and spaces.‘The sun has set now, and whatever light is left is dying, leaving to be reclaimed tomorrow.’I loved this novel.Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. Jennifer Cameron-Smith flag 1 like · Like  · see review Sep 17, 2020 Luana Gomes rated it really liked it I am so very glad I gave this book a chance.I normally shy away from books that delve into family dynamics, but there was something about this one that caught my eye . And then, this Syrian-Lebanese family story hooked me from beginning to end. The book is centered on 3 siblings that are called to their ancestral home in Beirut for the possibility of a sale. Their father is set on doing it, and their mom is scared, insisting they help to change his mind. We see parents and siblings under the sam I am so very glad I gave this book a chance.I normally shy away from books that delve into family dynamics, but there was something about this one that caught my eye . And then, this Syrian-Lebanese family story hooked me from beginning to end. The book is centered on 3 siblings that are called to their ancestral home in Beirut for the possibility of a sale. Their father is set on doing it, and their mom is scared, insisting they help to change his mind. We see parents and siblings under the same roof after being scattered for so long, having to face each other and their personal issues to remember what it means to be a family again.Hala Alyan writes beautifully, and all her characters were so compelling and believable I could not put the book down. There were so many layers of struggle, grief, regret, and doubt, and character development was so good that the switch in timelines and POVs did not bother me as I thought it would.The political nuances here and there, the conflict and destruction in Syria and in Lebanon were a bonus I enjoyed very much. Sometimes one is so accustomed to war it becomes just a backdrop.I thank NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this ARC. I definitely want to read more from Hala Alyan flag 1 like · Like  · see review Mar 17, 2021 Lani rated it it was amazing The Arsonists' City is a stunning book that immediately drew me in by both its cover and first chapter. This was family saga at its best.The patriarch of the Nasr family, Idris, is ready to sell his ancestral family home in Beirut. Wife, Mazna, calls their grown children to fly to Beirut in hopes that they will convince him not to sell. The children, grown and living in various parts of the world, have their own challenges in life to tackle but agree to spend summer in Beirut. As the family gath The Arsonists' City is a stunning book that immediately drew me in by both its cover and first chapter. This was family saga at its best.The patriarch of the Nasr family, Idris, is ready to sell his ancestral family home in Beirut. Wife, Mazna, calls their grown children to fly to Beirut in hopes that they will convince him not to sell. The children, grown and living in various parts of the world, have their own challenges in life to tackle but agree to spend summer in Beirut. As the family gathers, the secrets that have long been buried by the physical distance between them return to the surface. And each is faced person is faced with what secrets should be kept and what should be shared, even in your own family.I was completely absorbed by this book. The author does a tremendous job of starting the book with the tragic moment that changes the life of Idris and Mazna and then brilliantly weaves their own backstory in with the stories of their children and their struggles. I really appreciated learning more about the Lebanese and Syrian relations, a subject I admittedly know very little about so I found myself doing more research about the political and religious history of those countries. I highly recommend this book. It will be one of my top reads for 2021.Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Feb 25, 2021 Shagufta rated it it was amazing Every so often I read a book that grips me without letting go and it changes me. (Books on this list include Homegoing, A Place for Us and The Beauty of Your Face for example). A couple of days I started Hala Alyan’s new book “The Arsonists City” and this book has joined that list - I couldn’t stop reading until I finished. This book is about Ava, Naj and Mimi and their parents Mazan and Idris and a journey back to Beirut to sell a family home (I’m being vague because I didn’t look up anything a Every so often I read a book that grips me without letting go and it changes me. (Books on this list include Homegoing, A Place for Us and The Beauty of Your Face for example). A couple of days I started Hala Alyan’s new book “The Arsonists City” and this book has joined that list - I couldn’t stop reading until I finished. This book is about Ava, Naj and Mimi and their parents Mazan and Idris and a journey back to Beirut to sell a family home (I’m being vague because I didn’t look up anything about this book before I started and that was a lovely way to read) and in telling this story, switches from the perspective of different family members to unfold their individual and connected storie and their relationships with one another. It is about Beirut and Syria, about America, about relationships between partners, about marriage, about relationships between siblings, the way we people we love have the power to uplift and hurt us the most, the forgiveness and re-forgiveness and anger and acceptance that life involves. It is fantastic, I’m pre-ordering a copy so I have it in print. It comes out March 9 and this is a SEVEN STAR READ. Thank you Net Galley for a copy of this book! flag 1 like · Like  · see review Jan 11, 2021 Stacy40pages added it This was a very character driven novel. There are several characters within the family who the book goes through. It is also a slow read. The reader will need to be patient while the story builds. Personally, I do not enjoy slow burns or character driven novels.. so I don't think this one is for me. I enjoyed the first part of the book and getting to know the current generation of the family. Once it went into the past, I lost a bit of interest, but it picked up again for me later on. The charac This was a very character driven novel. There are several characters within the family who the book goes through. It is also a slow read. The reader will need to be patient while the story builds. Personally, I do not enjoy slow burns or character driven novels.. so I don't think this one is for me. I enjoyed the first part of the book and getting to know the current generation of the family. Once it went into the past, I lost a bit of interest, but it picked up again for me later on. The characters are very vividly done. I felt like I knew them in real life. You really get to know their fears and desires. There wasn't a single character that I didn't like or felt that I related to in some way or another. I think this would be a good book for someone looking to take their time, and delve into a strong, and deep, multi generational saga. I also liked the cultural aspect and learning of the countries in the book. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Feb 07, 2021 Megan Tristao rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition Shelves: adult-fiction, setting-1980s, arab-authors, asian-and-aa-authors, setting-1990s, setting-21st-cent, setting-asia, setting-20th-cent, arcs, sibling-stories Another stunning family saga from Hala Alyan! The novel follows two primary storylines: In the present day, three Arab-American siblings (living in New York City, Austin and Beirut) are dealing with their own lives while attempting to fend off their mother Mazna's requests to all return to Beirut for the summer to sell their ancestral home. In the other storyline, we get to see Mazna coming of age in Syria and Lebanon during the tumultuous 1970s and later immigrating to the United States. Life i Another stunning family saga from Hala Alyan! The novel follows two primary storylines: In the present day, three Arab-American siblings (living in New York City, Austin and Beirut) are dealing with their own lives while attempting to fend off their mother Mazna's requests to all return to Beirut for the summer to sell their ancestral home. In the other storyline, we get to see Mazna coming of age in Syria and Lebanon during the tumultuous 1970s and later immigrating to the United States. Life in this book is messy, heartbreaking and beautiful, and while at times the plot appeared to veer toward the predictable or even trite, I found that knowing the characters' secrets before they did added a delicious layer of tension to my reading experience. Additionally, while almost all the characters said or did things that were nearly unforgivable, I couldn't help but love them.I received a free advance copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. flag 2 likes · Like  · see review View 2 comments Feb 21, 2021 Amy rated it really liked it This is a story about family, and secrets, about the search for authenticity and a life that captures what our hearts deem to be essential. This is a largely character driven novel with a LOT of characters, and the story is long - maybe too long - so the whole thing feels kind of meandering and lazy, until the secrets begin to be revealed, and then the story is gripping and compelling, until it isn’t again, which is all to say that I found the book to be unevenly written, despite the beauty of t This is a story about family, and secrets, about the search for authenticity and a life that captures what our hearts deem to be essential. This is a largely character driven novel with a LOT of characters, and the story is long - maybe too long - so the whole thing feels kind of meandering and lazy, until the secrets begin to be revealed, and then the story is gripping and compelling, until it isn’t again, which is all to say that I found the book to be unevenly written, despite the beauty of the prose. I have mixed feelings about this book, but am left with a swirl of thoughts about love and loss, about dreams and hope, about selfish acts and regret, and about the ways time both diminishes and amplifies the secrets we keep, or think we are keeping, but that aren’t as hidden as we’d like to believe. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Feb 28, 2021 Lauren rated it it was amazing Shelves: arcs, bipoc-authors, lgbtq This book is electrifying. From the first paragraph, I was deeply emotionally invested in these characters and how they reacted to discovering one another's secrets. In some ways, it reminds me of A Place For Us, although the language is not quite as lyrical -- it's more arresting and gritty, although still beautiful. If you like generational family dramas, this would be a great read for you. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advance review copy. This book is electrifying. From the first paragraph, I was deeply emotionally invested in these characters and how they reacted to discovering one another's secrets. In some ways, it reminds me of A Place For Us, although the language is not quite as lyrical -- it's more arresting and gritty, although still beautiful. If you like generational family dramas, this would be a great read for you. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advance review copy. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Apr 03, 2021 Maggie Marshall rated it really liked it Would have been 5 ⭐️, but had a non-linear plot, which I'm not a fan of. A well written, atmospheric, character driven "story of the heart." It also expanded my pandemic armchair travels to include Beirut! Would have been 5 ⭐️, but had a non-linear plot, which I'm not a fan of. A well written, atmospheric, character driven "story of the heart." It also expanded my pandemic armchair travels to include Beirut! flag 1 like · Like  · see review Aug 19, 2020 Samuel marked it as to-read Shelves: arcs I received this complimentary ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. flag 1 like · Like  · see review « previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 next »

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