A love letter to Syria and its people, As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is a speculative novel set amid the Syrian Revolution, burning with the fires of hope, love, and possibility. Perfect for fans of The Book Thief and Salt to the Sea.
Zoulfa Katouh’s As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow is a captivating view into a historical moment and the people who lived through it. It’s also a beautiful story about the power of hope and how it can shape not just a generation, but a specific person. Fangirlish had a chance to talk to the author about As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow, the setting, and the universality of characters — of people, and though we already loved the book before, it’s hard to explain how much more we feel it now.
We had to start with why. Why choose a historical moment, a story, that has so many pitfalls, that is so hard to tell? Katouh shared that she “wanted to write about the reasons why someone leaves their home — because it’s no easy decision.” And she tied that to the situation in Syria, remarking that “most people don’t know what’s happening in Syria and why there are so many refugees.” As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow goes into the situation in Syria, and for the author, it was both emotional and cathartic to go there.
“I’ve had all these thoughts and feelings bottled up inside for years and was able to write them down in a story that brings the image clearer to readers’ minds,” she told us, and we admit that, even for people who are pretty well informed, there was a lot to learn, a lot to absorb and an opportunity to evaluate the ways we’d seen the world before in this book.
That was important to Katouh, but the message was also important, and she was very clear on what it was: “Hope. That despite everything that’s going on, hope persists like it always has. My goal was always for my readers to see my characters as more than their pain and trauma. They live on despite it all.” And though this is a very specific situation, hope is a general feeling everyone can understand and relate to.
Of course, to get there, you have to make your characters real, give them moments of connection, and then hope those instances resonate with people. As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow’s heroine, Salama is a perfect YA heroine, even if she doesn’t look like the heroine we see in most YA books. For Katouh, what made Salama special was that she “represents a Syrian but also people who struggle with their own demons every day. Salama has her own internal demon, i.e., Khawf who I think we all know in our everyday life. But even with him haunting her, she picks herself up after falling down.” She doesn’t give up. Plus, she also “shows how absolutely okay it is for someone not to be brave all the time but to always remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. No matter how long that tunnel is.”
Hope, once again. At the center of it all. The hope for better things, for connection, for a brighter future. And though we don’t particularly want to spoil the best moments in the book — no, but seriously, go read it — we will share that the author confessed her favorite scenes are the quiet moments between Salama and Kenan. So there’s something there for people to look forward to, something that feels both very familiar and magical in a way only good writing can manage.
And though this is Zoulfa Katouh’s first book, she’s not stopping anytime soon. “I have officially submitted my second book to my editors and we’re currently working on making it pretty and shiny,” she shared, adding that the new book is “the other side of the coin to Lemon Trees and deals with what happens after you’ve reached “safety.” It has themes of identity, racism, what home truly means, love and, as always, hope. It’s a dual POV which was fun to write. Essentially at its core, it’s a healing story,” she explained, and though we were essentially sold when she said the other side of the coin to As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow, now we need it to be ready and published ASAP.
But we’re also in for Katouh’s dream project, which is “writing a fantasy series that would be mentioned with The Poppy War and The Green Bone Saga,” because, imagine that. And to the author’s stated desire of wanting readers to be like “Oh my God the duality between her contemporaries and fantasies! How?!” we just have one thing to say — the author is off to a really, really good start.
We’ll be reading whatever comes next.
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is available wherever books are sold.