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As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow

by Zoulfa Katouh

Zoulfa Katouh’s As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow begins in a supermarket in the Syrian city of Homs. Salama Kassab, the protagonist, buys everything the supermarket has to offer – three shrivelled lemons and a bag of dry pita bread – before hurrying back to the house she shares with her sister-in-law, Layla.

The aisles of the supermarket weren’t always this empty, Salama tells the reader. When they were younger, Salama and her older brother, Hamza, would come after school and leave with bags of chips and gummy bears. But the bombings in the wake of the Syrian revolution – led by the Free Syrian Army against the dictator Bashar al-Assad – have reduced the supermarket, the city of Homs, and its citizens to a shell of what they used to be.

Al-Assad’s violent regime first took Salama’s father and brother, imprisoning both for protesting against it. Then it turned on Salama’s mother burying herunderneath the bombed rubble of the family home. When the reader meets Salama, the regime constantly threatens to take away her sole remaining family member: Hamza’s wife, Layla, who is seven months pregnant.

Though Salama seeks safety beyond Syria’s borders for Layla’s sake, she feels guilty leaving behind the hospital where she volunteers and the injured patients who need her. Making her feel even more guilty is the entity named Khauf, which literally means fear, a physical manifestation of Salama’s anguish after the trauma she has endured.

“I’m torn between my duty to my brother and to the hospital, the ropes holding me on each side both fraying at the edges,” Salama confides. “And I don’t know which will give before the other.”

Salama’s story is an unflinchingly honest account of the material, mental, and physical losses suffered when living through geopolitical conflict – and the love, for both country and family, that enables one to survive such loss. In As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow, Katouh weaves a story so compelling the reader is all but spellbound, turning the page in the hope that, like the lemon trees Salama’s family planted in their yard as a symbol of hope, Salama, too, will not wilt but flower and bloom.


Reviewer: Zeahaa Rehman

Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers


Price: $23.99

Page Count: 432 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-0-31635-137-9

Released: September

Issue Date: December 2022

Categories: Children and YA Fiction, Kids’ Books

Age Range: 14+