I loved this book and will never forget reading it- a unique and memorable saga that becomes more riveting in every section. For fans of books such as The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini or The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri : get this amazing 442 page novel by Hala Alyan immediately. The Arsonists' City is about a very realistic but flawed cast of family members. But it is also so much more; it will make readers ponder life and love and losses, choices and consequences, and unanswered prayers.
For anyone who has ever wondered what life might have been like IF, be prepared to weep at certain episodes. For anyone who has ever done a Google search of names from the past, be prepared to relate to events and characters. Family members all have various secrets and life is complicated by the past and the effects of war in the Middle East. Also, as you read, watch for the ways in which the old Arabic adage of "a single mistake ensures a double misfortune" comes into play with the members of this family.
Throughout the novel, the sensory appeals make readers feel as if they smell the almond blossom by grandfather's home, and they will easily picture in their mind Beirut's cool and increasingly upscale neighborhood of Gemmayzeh in Beirut where wilder rock-star daughter Naj has one of many female lovers.
The Nasr family, originally from Beirut, now has most of their family members in the United States. Their reasonably-happy, American lives are disrupted by grandfather's death (in Beirut), and the need to be on-site to sell the family home and settle his estate. The book may seem to begin a little slowly, but do not give up because the drama and surprising twists and inevitable heartbreak are coming once you get past the introductions to mother Mazna's three adult children.
Thirty-nine-year old daughter Ava has married well, into the old-money Tucker family, and her husband's past infidelity makes her uneasy. She seems to have forgiven husband Nate because she likes the lifestyle. But is forgiveness going to be enough to hold them together when Nate is sent to out of state to Portland for a great job. Ava does the classic modern snooping - looking for emails, etc. (No plot spoilers here.)
Ava's brother, however, is not as hardworking as she. He is a young man with big dreams of becoming a famous musician doing small time gigs in his hometown of Austin,Texas. However, his lack of any big effort or dedication to hard work has left him just getting by, and as he approaches the age of thirty, he senses what others are starting to think- that he is a has been. While all of this may sound mundane, the book is anything but. There are a few sections where the pace is slower as family problems are pondered by the characters, but I never felt bored.
Resist any temptation to skim a few pages, because the details begin coming together and will take your breath away in scenes that are extremely emotional. One of the plot surprises is the importance of the youthful courtship between Mother Mazna and her surgeon husband, Idris.
I am extremely appreciative for the e-book ARC I had from NetGalley and from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.