REVIEW: the Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukadar

The Official Description: The author of the “vivid and urgent…important and timely” (The New York Times Book Review) debut The Map of Salt and Stars returns with this remarkably moving and lyrical novel following three generations of Syrian Americans who are linked by a mysterious species of bird and the truths they carry close to their hearts.

Five years after a suspicious fire killed his ornithologist mother, a closeted Syrian American trans boy sheds his birth name and searches for a new one. He has been unable to paint since his mother’s ghost has begun to visit him each evening. As his grandmother’s sole caretaker, he spends his days cooped up in their apartment, avoiding his neighborhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend (who also happens to be his longtime crush). The only time he feels truly free is when he slips out at night to paint murals on buildings in the once-thriving Manhattan neighborhood known as Little Syria.

One night, he enters the abandoned community house and finds the tattered journal of a Syrian American artist named Laila Z, who dedicated her career to painting the birds of North America. She famously and mysteriously disappeared more than sixty years before, but her journal contains proof that both his mother and Laila Z encountered the same rare bird before their deaths. In fact, Laila Z’s past is intimately tied to his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—in ways he never could have expected. Even more surprising, Laila Z’s story reveals the histories of queer and transgender people within his own community that he never knew. Realizing that he isn’t and has never been alone, he has the courage to officially claim a new name: Nadir, an Arabic name meaning rare.

As unprecedented numbers of birds are mysteriously drawn to the New York City skies, Nadir enlists the help of his family and friends to unravel what happened to Laila Z and the rare bird his mother died trying to save. Following his mother’s ghost, he uncovers the silences kept in the name of survival by his own community, his own family, and within himself, and discovers the family that was there all along.

Featuring Zeyn Joukhadar’s signature “magical and heart-wrenching” (The Christian Science Monitor) storytelling, The Thirty Names of Night is a timely exploration of how we all search for and ultimately embrace who we are.

Just the facts: Adult, fiction, Syrian culture, ornithology, family roots, Trans character

This is a lyrical journey through the lives and ancestry of Syrian Americans. It’s beautiful, more like an intricate painting than a novel. – Kinzie Things

My thoughts bit: The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukadar is going to be a difficult book to review. If you’ve read the blurb above then you know that at its core, this book is about Syrian Americans: their history, their struggles, their victoria and defeats, their humanity and so much more. But it’s also about a few other things. And this is why I think it’s difficult to review. It’s not hard to write about because it’s wanting in any way.

This novel is beautiful. Joukadar’s writing is more like poetry than prose and each sentence is like the brush strokes in an impressionist painting. I had to keep reading to uncover more of the image I was being guided through.

There are several themes in this book. Probably one of the most important ones is identity. It’s complex in this story. There is the identity we have from a cultural perspective, and from a personal connection with our family and friends. There’s also the identity that comes from within us. Who am I? And what makes me who I am? Gender roles, historical significance, culture, Society, normas… there is so much that plays into who we are. Joukadar has taken a complex issue and broken it down so beautifully that it’s impossible to stop reading.

This book is also about connections in a way. We are connected … again … to our histories and our culture but there are connections all around us that we don’t necessarily see day today. We forge bonds with the people around us, the belongings that we cling to and the tasks we give ourselves

This book is written by an “Own Voices” author… and it’s so gloriously evident. the main character is a trans boy who is on a journey towards his a name… an identity. Sometimes harsh and visceral, often touching and thought-provoking, this journey is remarkable.

Links: Goodreads // The Author 

I received an ARC of The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukadar from Atria Books via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.


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