On Jan. 27, 2017, Donald Trump issued an executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Against that background, author Zgheib has created a tense, moving novel about the meaning of home, the risks of exile, the power of nations, and the power of love. Hadi Deeb, who has legal refugee status, is caught in the political maelstrom when, on Jan. 28, he lands in Boston after a brief visit to Syria for his father’s funeral. Hadi’s pregnant wife, Sama, waiting for him at Logan airport, is nearly trampled in the melee of protestors. In 2010, at the age of 17, Sama came to the U.S. to study anthropology at Harvard; in 2015, Hadi arrived, one among thousands of refugees escaping a devastating war in Syria. Sponsored by a Boston lawyer, Hadi was amazed at the sight of Harvard students walking, without fear, “on a campus in a parallel universe.” Although sometimes disoriented and homesick, Hadi shared Sama’s optimism about their future in the “Land of the Brave and Free!” Zgheib tracks back and forth in place and time as she recounts the circumstances that impel Sama and Hadi to leave Syria, the radiant days of their meeting and marriage, and their desperate efforts to be reunited after Hadi is refused entry. Punctuating the narrative are lyrical passages about bird migration—Sama’s dissertation topic—that serve as obvious, yet still effective, metaphors for human experience. Most birds do not migrate, it seems, raising the question “of why some birds go at all.” Of those that do, “it has been observed that birds feel a sort of pain before taking off, almost like fear, and that nothing alleviates that feeling except the rapid motion of wings.” Many never reach their destination: Some, Zgheib sadly reveals, are poached by starving refugees.
A graceful tale of imperiled lovers.