Real Lit Reads: ‘The Map of Salt and Stars’

Real Lit Reads get together for their 17th read of “The Map of Salt and Stars” by Zeyn Joukhadar.

Photo by Real Lit Reads | Real Lit graphic of MOSAS

Join Real Lit Reads for their Spring quarter read of “The Map of Salt and Stars” by Zeyn Joukhadar.

Real Lit Reads is in collaboration with the Center for Equity and Inclusion and is a peer-based book club on campus that focuses on stories that raise awareness on a variety of topics such as anti-racism, identity and stories from the perspectives and experiences of others.

This quarter’s read, “The Map of Salt and Stars,” centers around the character Nour, a young Syrian girl who is living in New York City. The story alternates between the timeline of Nour and Rawiya, a young girl who is an apprentice to a mapmaker.

As described by the publisher: “This “beguiling” (Seattle Times) and stunning novel begins in the summer of 2011. Nour has just lost her father to cancer, and her mother moves Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. In order to keep her father’s spirit alive as she adjusts to her new home, Nour tells herself their favorite story—the tale of Rawiya, a twelfth-century girl who disguised herself as a boy in order to apprentice herself to a famous mapmaker.

But the Syria Nour’s parents knew is changing, and it isn’t long before the war reaches their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety—along the very route Rawiya and her mapmaker took eight hundred years before in their quest to chart the world. As Nour’s family decides to take the risk, their journey becomes more and more dangerous, until they face a choice that could mean the family will be separated forever.”

“While we were picking a title for this quarter, we wanted to specifically choose one that focused on Muslim identities. We haven’t read a book for Real Lit before that focused on that specific identity, and we thought it was nice to time it up with Ramadan,” said co-facilitator of the group, Layne Gonzales.

Photo by Alexa Christie

A lot of thought goes into the selection of these books with facilitators carefully researching novels before the quarter. A big reason a book is selected may depend on who the author is and the identities that author may discuss, as well as how long the book may be and how easy it could be for busy college students to read.

“We come up with a reading schedule for the quarter with each week reading about 1-2 chapters and we discuss them in our meetings. Although Real Lit is more about community and having good conversations, we try to tie in what we read in the book with real life issues. So, we emphasize that even if you fall behind on the readings, to still come and have conversation with us,” said Alisa King, another co-facilitator of the group.

Meetings for this quarter began on March 30, and are held on Zoom on Thursdays 12:30 p.m. to 1:20 p.m.. Students are still eligible to sign up where they will be asked if they would prefer a print or e-book version of “The Map of Salt and Stars.” Print versions of the book are provided out of the library’s operating budget. Print books will be handed out on a first-come first-serve basis with a preference given to students.

“I hope that our participants can read “The Map of Salt and Stars” and gain an understanding and empathy about people’s lives in Syria and be inspired to take action against Islamophobia and anti-refugee rhetoric,” said King.

If you have any questions about Real Lit Reads, you can email: or or or or lgonza3@uw.eduTo sign up for this quarters read, you can fill out this form: