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“The Arsonists’ City delivers all the pleasures of a good old-fashioned saga, but in Alyan’s hands, one family’s tale becomes the story of a nation—Lebanon and Syria, yes, but also the United States. It’s the kind of book we are lucky to have.”—Rumaan Alam
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).
About the Author
HALA ALYAN is the author of the novel Salt Houses, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Arab American Book Award and a finalist for the Chautauqua Prize, as well as the forthcoming novel The Arsonists’ City and four award-winning collections of poetry, most recently The Twenty-Ninth Year. Her work has been published by TheNew Yorker, the Academy of American Poets, LitHub,the New York Times Book Review, and Guernica. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, where she works as a clinical psychologist.
A Most Anticipated Title of 2021 from Buzzfeed, Refinery29, Lit Hub, The Millions, The Rumpus, Write or Die Tribe, and Palm Beach Daily NewsNamed a Most Anticipated Title by a Woman of Color for 2021 by R.O. Kwon in Electric Literature
“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 Arab American voice.”
—Etaf Rum, New York Times best-selling author of A Woman Is No Man
“I don’t exactly understand how Hala Alyan does it—conjures love, sorrow, betrayal, and joy; goes from being funny and warm to incisive and thoughtful—but as a reader, I’m glad that she does. The Arsonists’ City
delivers all the pleasures of a good old-fashioned saga but in Alyan’s hands, one family’s tale becomes the story of a nation—Lebanon and Syria, yes, but also the United States. It’s the kind of book we are lucky to have.”
—Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind
"A profound inquiry into what it means to be a family, determine your identity, and hold onto a home — particularly in a world that doesn't always weigh equally the importance of everyone's home, identity, and family...Alyan is virtuosic at portraying the complicated bonds that exist between family members, and she is unafraid to show both the beauty and the despair that come with true intimacy, love, and loss."
"Alyan’s varied talents never cease to amaze."
"Alyan, author of the award-winning Salt Houses, has written another family saga studded with the same beautiful lyricism...Makes for great fiction."
“No one knows the human heart like Hala Alyan. Her ability to show its unexpected contours is on full display in The Arsonists' City
—a book so gorgeously written I found myself reading sentences aloud just to keep them with me a little longer."
—Mira Jacob, author of Good Talk and The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing
“Faced with the impending sale of their ancestral home in Beirut, the delightfully flawed members of the Nasr family must confront their late-onset nostalgia just as the secrets they’ve kept buried from each other are surfacing to air. An irresistible heart-tugger as complex and sensual as Lebanon itself.”
—Courtney Maum, author of I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without YouandCostalegre
"Exquisite...Tenderly and compassionately told, and populated with complicated and flawed characters, the Nasrs’ story interrogates nostalgia, memory, and the morality of keeping secrets against the backdrop of a landscape and a people in constant flux. Alyan’s debut was striking, and this one’s even better."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review