"Feels revolutionary in its freshness." —Entertainment Weekly
“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 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, Literary Hub, the New York Times Book Review, and Guernica. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, where she works as a clinical psychologist.
A Belletrist Book Club Pick A Most Anticipated Title of 2021 from Buzzfeed, Refinery29, Lit Hub, The Millions, The Rumpus, Write or Die Tribe, and Palm Beach Daily News A Most Anticipated Title of March by Entertainment Weekly, Ms. Magazine, The Millions, and HelloGiggles Named a Most Anticipated Title by a Woman of Color for 2021 by R.O. Kwon in Electric Literature A Best Book of the Spring from Buzzfeed “Breathless...Alyan plants the riches of the city with stealthy precision, making the maddening conundrum of Beirut yours...From Lebanon, we visit Syria. We reach back to Palestine. The three nations mirror the imperfect, strained yet inextricable relationship of the Nasr children, now adults...Alyan distilled the fog of displacement and exposes the ways an unfamiliar culture can devour the traits that make us special. And when plumbing the intricacies of race and womanhood, Alyan turns paragraphs into poetry.” —New York Times Book Review "Feels revolutionary in its freshness...The book has all the elements we expect from a family saga, but set against the backdrop of Lebanon’s long, sad history, the narrative stakes are so much higher." —Entertainment Weekly "Beautifully illustrating the complexities, fragilities and flaws of families, this heartfelt novel centers siblings struggling to make a decision about the sale of the family home in Beirut as secrets, bonds and the legacies of war come to the fore." —Ms. Magazine “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 sprawling look at various fragments of Arab identity...Alyan’s family saga contains meticulously crafted moments of betrayal, bitterness, and dashed ambitions...The Arsonists’ City is at its core a meditation on the loss of love and of one’s homeland—losses that are intertwined...Rather than providing Western readers with an exotic fantasy of Arab culture and identity, Alyan teases out the complexities of her characters’ layered experiences with a slow burn that demands the reader’s patience and careful attention...Alyan draws on her vivid memories of the region from which she hails and turns to rigorous research to fill in any gaps. The result is an intricately plotted, tightly knit novel that at once breaks the heart and fills it with joy." —Los Angeles Review of Books "Alyan’s novel brims with life as the Nasr family’s secrets are revealed, pushing past into present. Spanning across the globe, from Palestine to Lebanon and from Syria to America, each character is housed in pockets of social and identity politics, exile, ci