Book Review: The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan

April 28, 2021


The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan is a generational saga taking place in Syria, Lebanon, and the United States. Ms. Alyan is an award winning poet and novelist.

Book Review: The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan
My rat­ing for The Arsonists’ City5
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One of the first noticeable things when starting to read The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan is that the writing is particularly superb. Ms. Alyan’s narrative is very lyrical, well written, and, by all means, a joy to read.

For one thing, within the first few pages, the author sets the state in a very intense scene. She introduces the Beirut, a religious war, the everyday hidden violence, and furthermore, regional politics. The story changes pace dramatically from section to section, jumping forward and backward decades.

The sections do have a logical connection, even though they take decades apart. In that manner, the book reminded of the excellent biography Walking With Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne. Like anyone else, the Nasr family’s relations are complex, layered, and built on omissions, half-lies, repressed feelings, not to mention lots of love.

The subject of refugees and the impact of wars on them is a recurring theme within the book. The author captures the impacts we all know happen, but choose to ignore.
An eternal foreigner in a foreign land – for generations.

I enjoyed the individual histories of the characters, which seamlessly flow into their shared family history. The characters are nuanced and fleshed out, and their relationships are realistic as well as their bad decision making.

Last but not least, the locations are brought to life very well. The descriptions of Beirut and Syria are well-done and capture the feel and ambiance from a local’s perspective.


When the Nasr family’s patriarch dies, his son, Idris, in the United States decides to sell the family’s home in Beirut, albeit for that he wants the whole family to come along. The rest of the Nasrs, however, are not delighted with Idris’ decision and are uniting against him.

Slowly, the family’s tangled web of secrets unravels. Jealousies, histories, shame, lost loves, as well as legacies of war surface.

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More Books by Hala Alyan*

Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I got this book for free
*Ama­zon links point to an affiliate account

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The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan

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