"No Land to Light On" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
A Syrian man and woman meet in America, arriving in the U.S. at different times and under far different circumstances. Their experiences color their future as a couple in the novel “No Land to Light On,” by Yara Zgheib.
Using two sympathetic characters, the author tells the story of Sama, who left Syria five years before Hadi. When Sama bid her parents goodbye, determined to get a good education in the U.S., Syria was at peace. But when Hadi left his native country Syria was embroiled in a civil war. Hadi suffered grave indignities there and was jailed under deplorable conditions.
Sama and Hadi’s paths cross at Harvard when Hadi gives a speech thanking those responsible for his resettlement in the U.S. Sama teaches at Harvard and is working on her dissertation. The couple fall in love and marry, but Hadi has nightmares about war-torn Syria, and concern for his parents who undergo bombings and suffer a lack of food and water. Hadi arranges for them to join him in the U.S., a lengthy process that ends abruptly when his father dies hours before his parents’ interview at the U.S. Embassy.
Though Sama doesn’t want to be apart from Hadi, especially since she’s 26 weeks pregnant, she understands Hadi’s need to return to the Middle East to arrange for his father’s funeral. Tragically, when Hadi tries to return to the U.S., he’s caught up in America’s Muslim travel ban instituted in 2017.
Hadi arrives at Logan Airport, but is detained. He frantically calls Sama to give her the news. Sama panics, her confusion and fear intensified by an angry group at the airport protesting the ban. The shock of it all throws Sama into early labor, and she’s rushed to the hospital, the outcome of a healthy, safe birth in question.
The couple’s horrific dilemma is immediate, the author drawing you into their drama and uncertainty as soon as the novel opens, making it difficult to put down this must-read. “No Land to Light On” is beautifully written and offers an intimate portrayal of how profoundly the travel ban affected one couple—though the book is fictional its narrative is highly believable and heartbreaking.