The Story Behind Zoulfa Katouh’s As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow
By: Souria Dabbousi / Arab America Contributing Writer
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is written by Syrian Author, Zoulfa Katouh. The novel is set during the height of the revolution in war-torn Syria. It revolves around 18-year-old Salama, who works at a pharmacy but is forced into the role of pharmacist, doctor, and surgeon. This novel explains the cruelty and destruction that took place during the war through the eyes of Salama. In addition to seeing the horrors of war, she is pressured into making crucial choices when the lives of her loved ones are put at risk. The dread of leaving is tremendous, but the fear of remaining is worse. While Salama struggles to stay true to herself and her conscience, the urgency to keep her commitment to her brother and protect her sister-in-law and her unborn child grows. She transforms into a different person, going against all she has ever done to serve others and put their needs ahead of hers.
What’s the message behind the use of lemons?
To Syrians, lemons symbolize hope and resistance. “Lemons are a homage to one of Nizar Qabbani’s verses in a poem, which was about Syria,” Katouh explained. Nizar Qabbani was a famous Syrian poet, lawyer, and diplomat. Part of Katouh’s inspiration for her novel was based on one of Qabbani’s poems. The line from which she drew that inspiration translates to “every lemon shall bring forth a child, and the lemons will never die out.”
Purpose Behind the Book
This book shows the reality of the war and the unseen parts of it. It shows what isn’t portrayed in the news and media, the actual struggles of the war. “I realized then that people in Europe and the West only know what the media shows them. They only see the consequences; the refugees coming into their countries. So, I wanted to send the message that no one wants to be a refugee. No one takes to the sea and risks drowning and an uncertain future if what they’re leaving behind isn’t something more horrific. I wanted to take the hard cold facts and turn them into a story because Syrians aren’t numbers. They are whole lives,” she says.
“I didn’t know how much I needed to write this book until I did. Not just for potential readers, but for me as well. To write a Muslim hijabi girl who lives outside the box made from consistent negative stereotypes the media put her in. I wrote this book for everyone but in particular for Muslim girls and boys who never saw themselves in anything. To them I say, you are not who they made you to be.”~Zoulfa Katouh
Drafts for As Long As The Lemon Trees Grow began in 2017, were finished in 2018 and were formally concluded in late 2020. The sequel to Lemon Trees, Katouh’s next book, is currently being written. Unlike the first novel, the sequel will address what transpires after you arrive at safety. It also touches on issues of racism, recovering from trauma, and identity. Of course, there is always hope.
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