No Land to Light On by Yara Zgheib
Published by Atria Books
Publication date: January 4, 2022
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Contemporary, Cultural, Literary
Despite being five months pregnant Sama goes to the airport to surprise her husband, Hadi, on his return from his father’s funeral. Only to be met by a large crowd of angry people, with signs, yelling. She can’t enter the building so tries calling him. Amidst the noise, they only speak long enough for Hadi to tell her they won’t let him out, that his passport has been taken away. The call disconnects, someone pushes Sama to the ground, and she goes into labor. This chaotic, frightening scene is the opening of Yara Zgheib’s new novel, No Land to Light On.
The airport is Logan, the day is January 27, 2017, the first day of the former president’s Muslim travel ban, and both Sama and Hadi are Syrian. Hadi was a political prisoner in Syria and has a refugee visa. Both are here legally, but it doesn’t matter. As Sama is taken to a hospital Hadi is informed that his status has been revoked and he will be immediately deported. While Sama gives birth to their son by emergency C-section, he is sent back to Jordan, where his flight originated. He has a month to land somewhere else before he’ll be sent back to Syria and certain arrest.
From the opening pages of No Land, Zgheib immerses the reader in a nightmarish world. A strong imagination is not needed to feel the terror, the frantic helplessness, the despair, because she lays it out on the page. Sama is alone, without any family, in a hospital with a baby on the very edge of surviving. Hadi is on the other side of the world with no luggage, a cell phone, and an almost maxed out credit card. What was supposed to be a time of united joy is now a situation of separation fraught with pain and uncertainty.
Zgheib uses Sama’s studies in America as a counterpoint to this painful intensity. Seven years ago she came to Harvard to study anthropology and specifically avian migration patterns. Zgheib ties her research into humans, what happens when their patterns are disrupted. Specifically, birds that migrate over the Middle East and North Africa whose numbers are being decimated by war, poaching, and the destruction of their natural habitat.
These few brief notes iin No Land provide an aching parallel to the human population, not only in those regions, but around the globe. The planet suffers when the seeds these birds would naturally disperse cease. It’s a painful metaphor for where we stand now. My feelings about the previous presidential administration are no secret, but as someone who was not impacted by the majority of his inhumane, ineffectual, dangerous policies this novel packs a brutal emotional punch. Maybe because it is so likely based on the truth.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I get a small commission (at no cost to you).
*I received a free copy of this book from Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.*