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Idris Nasr, a Lebanese doctor living in America, announces to his family that he is selling his family’s home in Beirut; he feels it is time since his father has recently died. Traveling to Beirut with his Syrian wife, and met by his three adult children, Idris faces some stern opposition to the selling of the home, even though only one of his three children lives in the area and the family never seems to visit the ancestral home. As the Nasr family faces the history contained within and around the home, they are forced to face their own individual pasts and the secrets they contain. 

I really cannot express in words how much I enjoyed Arsonists’ City. One of the things I really like about this novel is the structure, alternating between the present and the past. Alyan gives you just enough about the present so you can form an opinion and perception regarding the events, but then the events shift to the past, affecting those opinions about the people and circumstances, only for the narrative to jump forward and mold those opinions all over again. It was interesting to see the mirroring between the characters and the generations, and the nonlinear timeline is very effective at shining a light on these similarities, the largest being secrets. Arsonists’ City shows how dangerous and life-changing secrets have the potential to be, especially when they are kept for a long time, and how some secrets aren’t as hidden as some people think. The characters are extremely well developed; I don’t know if I have ever changed my opinions about so many characters so many times before. Their emotions are honest and often understandable within their various circumstances; they are relatable and realistic, secrets and all. 

I highly recommend Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan. It is a moving novel full of love, secrets and personal growth. 

Thank you NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for gifting me an electronic copy of Arsonists’ City, given in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own.