The Arsonists City is a multi-generational story that focuses on the Nasar family. After the death of his father, Nasar, a cardiologist, is the new patriarch of the family. Thus, he decides now is the time to go back to Beirut(Lebanon) to sell their ancestral home. His wife, Mazna is Syrian and a former actress. Mazna decides to coax her children Mimi, Ava, and Naj to come along as well. However, these three siblings have a very detached relationship. They haven’t seen each other in a long time and are busy with their own hectic lives; living under the same roof isn’t something they thought would happen any time soon. The siblings don’t want their father to sell their family home and decide to come along to change his mind. What follows is each of these complex characters coming to terms with the past, its secrets, and where they want to be in the future.
Where shall I start? I mean it would be so easy for me to just call it a day and say “hey buy this book now it’s amazing!!!” But the fun comes with reeling you all in with hopes that y’all will slide into my DM’s like “Hey Adeel I loved this book so much! God why are you so amazing??” 😂😂. Ok let’s all breath and get serious now because I am a professional!
The Arsonists City was a truly captivating and extraordinary read that honestly blew me away. Everything from the writing, the characters, the emotion, and the tension hit all of the right notes. The Nasar family remind me of lots of families within the Arab/South Asian community. Leaving things unsaid in the hopes that’ll make everything better. But the more we hold things in the more likely they’ll implode in our faces. Throughout the book we are given a deep look into these five members of the Nasar family. The story goes from the past to the future as we uncover what life was like for them. We see how Mazna becomes infatuated with acting and dreams to become an actress in California. We also discover how she met Idris and the heartbreak that has stayed with her for a very long time.
In the present day we see Ava, Mimi, and Naj navigating through their lives and relationships. Ava, the eldest, lives in Brooklyn and is married to a dude called Nate. They’re having marital issues as Nate in the past may have been unable to control his pecker. They have two children together Rayan and Zina. Then you have Mimi who lives in Austin Texas with his girlfriend Harper. For many years Mimi has been trying and struggling to reach great heights with his band Dulcet. On the other hand their younger sister Naj who lives in Beirut is killing it with her band and her music becomes heavily popular in the Middle East and around the world. She has reached heights that Mimi could only dream of. But we soon discover that she has her own struggles.
I thought Hala does an exceptional job in crafting and moulding all of the characters into fine pieces of art. I loved learning about their past, their passions, and how they became who they are today. Alyan really highlights that humans are not perfect at all. Many of the characters have their own secrets, regrets, and flaws which Alyan slowly unravels.
My favourite character was definitely Mazna. Her love of acting was contagious and the bittersweet romance she has with someone really broke my heart. Mazna goes through a lot in this story, from losing the love of her life and also the struggle of assimilating to life in America
“The directors don’t want authenticity. They don’t want her accent-they want someone who speaks perfect English and can do an accent, She is too pretty for simpler roles, too dark for American parts.”
I also loved how vibrant and alive the locations were in which the story takes place. We go from Beirut, to Damascus, to California during the present and the past between 1960-1970s.
“At this hour, the city has a narcotic effect; ambient noise drifts from the passing cabs — a French song, the sound of a man coughing, and the few people on the street share a certain camaraderie, nodding and smiling wryly at each other. Beirut is an insomniac’s city, unfocused, filled with half-finished buildings and impromptu crowds.”
War is wreaking havoc in Beirut and the scenes Hala creates arevery intense. I still remember the tension I felt as Mazna decides to go from Beirut to Damascus with friends. I also can’t forget when at one point in a bakery shop where Zakaria (best friend of Idris and Mazna) works, they’re hassled by some scummy soldiers. That part really made my blood boil at how Palestinians were being treated. It’s a major reminder of how bad things have gotten now in terms of immigration issues and the refugee crisis(Zakaria lives in a refugee camp). As much as I loved when the story took place in the present, there was something about the past that just kept me entranced. Alyan paints a vivid picture of the locations which kept me wanting to learn more about the countries and the situations that had occured.
When considering the writing, Alyan again blew me away. Every single word just spoke to me in some way or form. There were so many times where I was moved by how the characters were feeling and what they were going through.
“Grief will make you do crazy things. It will electrify the elegant. Power stem neurons in the amygdala of your brain will pluck them like an instrument”.
Also, even though the pacing is slow, it is necessary to slowly peel the layers in order to understand the dynamics of the Nasar family. I was so fascinated by how much depth there was in the writing of the characters, the sounds, the atmosphere, the imagery, and the history of Beirut and Damascus. The humour and emotional moments were very well balanced too. One minute I was laughing the next I was distraught at what had occured.
Overall, an absolutely wonderful and beautiful story. The book has a stellar cast of characters who you can’t help but love and want to know more about. I loved that the pacing was not too fast or too slow. It was well balanced as you slowly begin to learn the complexities of the Nasar family. I couldn’t help but fall in love with them, even though they’ve cocked up a lot. It’s definitely a story that will stay with me forever and a book I will recommend to everyone.
I would also like to say a huge thank you to HMH books and Liz for gifting me a copy. Hand on heart, I am so so grateful to have been given the opportunity to review this book. The release date of this fantastic novel is the 9th of March 2021