Rummanah Aasi
Five years after a suspicious fire killed his 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. 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 finds the tattered journal of a Syrian American artist named Laila Z; whose past is intimately tied to his mother's--and his grandmother's--in ways he never could have expected. 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. Please note: The author has clearly said that his main character is trans non-binary whose preferred pronouns are he/his.

Review: The Thirty Names of Night is a complex story with multiple layers. It is a story of visibility, being, and belonging. It is a story of artists who connected by unspoken personal histories. It is a story of immigrants trying to find themselves. It is a ghost story. It is a story about birds. It is a mystery. It is also possibly the most beautiful book that I have read thus far in 2021.
     In this exquisitely, lush, and lyrical book we follow two main story-lines that will ultimately converge. In one story line we follow an unnamed narrator (for majority of the book) in contemporary New York City who is struggling with gender dysphoria, coming to terms to his own gender identity, and grieving the loss of his mother who died tragically in an Islamophobic hate crime. The narrator is unnamed because the name he was given at birth no longer fits him. Our narrator is an artist who has a creativity block, because he is constant restricted to the limitations of art just like his gender. He longs to be limitless, label-less in a world that constantly wants to place people in neat boxes. During the day our narrator cares for his ailing grandmother and during the night he paints murals of birds across New York City as an homage to his ornithologist mother as well as to Laila Z, an artist his mother admired and whose journals he discovers. 
  Our second story line follows Laila Z, a Syrian artist whose story begins in 1920 in French occupied Syria. After her family immigrates to America, she becomes an acclaimed illustrator of birds. Through Laila Z's diary we see the construction of Little Syria and its people in New York City. There is a profound sense that there has always been people who identify as LGBTQ+ in Syria in which our narrator finds comforting. It is also through Laila Z that our narrator also finds the key to unlocking himself.
  It did not take me long to get absorbed by Thirty Names of Night. I found both narratives equally compelling. Though both story lines are written in the second person and addressed to another character, it did not deter me from connecting to the characters. I read these two story lines as confessionals that are much easier told to another person than to yourself. Having our main character be unnamed is powerful and highlights the importance of agency:

“I think to myself, It is terrifying to be visible, and then I think, I have been waiting all my life to be seen."

    Little Syria, an area that I was not familiar with at all until reading this book, also becomes a character in the novel. We follow the plights of the Syrian American community and watch how it evolves from a bustling cultural community that is slowly being destroyed by gentrification. The author does not shy away from Islamophobia, struggles with faith, nor the discourse surrounding the uncertainty of the Muslim community's inclusion of the LGBTQ+ individuals, which I appreciated. 

 I will confess that I did not follow all of the details surrounding ornithology, but I liked how birds was used metaphorically throughout the book. I also really liked the secondary characters, particularly our narrator's group of friends and I wanted to know more of them. Despite these minor issues, Thirty Names of Night is a beautiful book that you should definitely add to your reading piles.  

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, implied sex scene, and Islamophobic hate crimes. Recommended for older teens and adults. 

If you like this book try: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, How Much of These Hills are Gold by C. Pam Zhang
1 Response
  1. This sounds really good on many levels. Onto the TBR list it goes!

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