As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow


By Zoulfa Katouh

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A love letter to Syria and its people, As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is a speculative novel set amid the Syrian Revolution, burning with the fires of hope, love, and possibility. Perfect for fans of The Book Thief and Salt to the Sea.

Salama Kassab was a pharmacy student when the cries for freedom broke out in Syria. She still had her parents and her big brother; she still had her home. She had a normal teenager’s life. 
Now Salama volunteers at a hospital in Homs, helping the wounded who flood through the doors daily. Secretly, though, she is desperate to find a way out of her beloved country before her sister-in-law, Layla, gives birth. So desperate, that she has manifested a physical embodiment of her fear in the form of her imagined companion, Khawf, who haunts her every move in an effort to keep her safe. 
But even with Khawf pressing her to leave, Salama is torn between her loyalty to her country and her conviction to survive. Salama must contend with bullets and bombs, military assaults, and her shifting sense of morality before she might finally breathe free. And when she crosses paths with the boy she was supposed to meet one fateful day, she starts to doubt her resolve in leaving home at all.  
Soon, Salama must learn to see the events around her for what they truly are—not a war, but a revolution—and decide how she, too, will cry for Syria’s freedom.


THREE SHRIVELED LEMONS AND A PLASTIC BAG OF pita bread that’s more dry than moldy sit next to one another.

That’s all this supermarket has to offer.

I stare with tired eyes before picking them up, my bones aching with every movement. I stroll around the dusty, empty aisles once more, hoping maybe I missed something. But all I’m met with is a strong sense of nostalgia. The days when my brother and I would rush into this supermarket after school and fill our arms with bags of chips and gummy bears. This makes me think of Mama and the way she would shake her head, trying not to smile at her red-faced, starry-eyed children trying their best to hide the spoils of war in their backpacks. She’d brush our hair—

I shake my head.


When the aisles prove to be truly empty, I trudge to the counter to pay for the lemons and bread with Baba’s savings. From whatever he was able to withdraw before that fateful day. The owner, a bald old man in his sixties, gives me a sympathetic smile before returning my change.

Outside the supermarket a desolate picture greets me. I don’t recoil, used to the horror, but it amplifies the anguish in my heart.

Cracked road, the asphalt reduced to rubble. Gray buildings hollowed and decaying as the elements try to finish what the military’s bombs started. Utter and absolute destruction.

The sun has been slowly melting away the remains of winter, but the cold is still here. Spring, the symbol of new life, does not extend to worn-out Syria. Least of all my city, Homs. Misery reigns strong in the dead, heavy branches and rubble, thwarted only by the hope in people’s hearts.

The sun hangs low in the sky, beginning the process of bidding us farewell, the colors slowly changing from orange to a heavy blue.

I murmur, “Daisies. Daisies. Daisies. Sweet-smelling daisies.”

Several men stand outside the supermarket, their faces gaunt and marked with malnourishment but their eyes sparkling with light. When I pass by, I hear bits of their conversation, but I don’t linger. I know what they’re talking about. It’s what everyone has been talking about for the past nine months.

I walk quickly, not wanting to listen. I know that the military siege inflicted on us is a death sentence. That our food supplies are diminishing and we’re starving. I know the hospital is about to reach a point any day now at which medications will become a myth. I know this because I performed surgeries without anesthesia today: People are dying from hemorrhages and infections and there’s no way for me to help them. And I know we’ll all succumb to a fate worse than death if the Free Syrian Army isn’t able to stop the military’s advances on Old Homs.

As I head home, the breeze turns cold and I pull my hijab tight around my neck. I’m acutely aware of the dried spots of blood that have managed to creep under my lab coat’s sleeves. For every life I can’t save during my shift, one more drop of blood becomes a part of me. No matter how many times I wash my hands, our martyrs’ blood seeps beneath my skin, into my cells. By now it’s probably encoded in my DNA.

And today, the echo of the oscillating saw from the amputation Dr. Ziad made me stand in for is stuck in my mind on a loop.

For seventeen years, Homs raised me and cultivated my dreams: Graduate from university with a high GPA, secure a great position at the Zaytouna Hospital as their pharmacist, and finally be able to travel outside of Syria and see the world.

But only one of those dreams has come true. And not in the way I thought it would.

A year ago, after the Arab Spring sparked across the region, Syria grabbed the hope awakening in the masses and called for freedom. The dictatorship responded by unleashing hell.

With the military deliberately targeting doctors, they became as scarce as laughter. But even without doctors, the bombs didn’t stop, and with the Zaytouna Hospital standing on its last legs, they needed every helping hand they could get. Even the custodial staff were promoted to nurses. Having spent one year at pharmacy school, I was the equivalent of a seasoned doctor, and after their last pharmacist was buried under the rubble of his home, there was no other choice.

It didn’t matter that I was eighteen years old. It didn’t matter that my medical experience was confined to the words in my textbooks. All of that was remedied as the first body was laid out before me to be stitched up. Death is an excellent teacher.

In the last six months, I have participated in more surgeries than I can count and closed more eyes than I ever thought I would.

This wasn’t supposed to be my life.

The rest of the way back home reminds me of the black-and-white pictures my history textbooks showed of Germany and London after World War II. Flattened homes spilling their interior wood and concrete like a perforated intestine. The smell of trees burned to ash.

The cold air bites through my lab coat’s worn-out material, and the harsh touch of it makes me shiver. I murmur, “Feverfew. They look like daisies. Treats fevers and arthritis. Feverfew. Feverfew. Feverfew.”

I finally catch sight of my home and my chest expands. It’s not the one I once shared with my family; it’s the one Layla gave me after a bomb fell on my own. Without her, I’d be out on the streets.

Layla’s place—our place, I guess—is a one-story house stacked right beside others just like it. All of them bearing bullet holes that decorate the walls like deadly art. All of them quiet, sad, and lonely. Our neighborhood is one of the last where homes are still mostly intact. In other neighborhoods, people sleep under broken roofs or on the streets.

The lock is rusty and creaks when I twist the key and call out, “I’m home!”

“In here!” Layla calls back.

We came into this world together when our mothers shared the same hospital room. She’s my best friend, my rock, and because she fell in love with my brother, Hamza, my sister-in-law.

And now, with everything that’s happened, my responsibility and the only family I have left in the world.

When Layla first saw this house, she was immediately infatuated with its quaint aesthetic, so Hamza bought it for her on the spot. Two bedrooms were perfect for a newlywed couple to make their own. She painted branches of green vines from the bottom of one of the walls all the way to the top, etched purple lavender blossoms on another, and covered the floors in thick Arabian rugs I had helped her buy from Souq Al-Hamidiyah. She painted the kitchen white to contrast with shelves made from walnut wood, which she filled with different assortments of mugs she designed. The kitchen overlooks the living room, where, back in the day, her art supplies cluttered every nook and cranny. Papers smudged by her colored fingertips strewn across the floor, paint from her paintbox dripping from brushes. Many times I would come over only to find her sprawled under her easel, auburn hair fanned out and staring at the ceiling, mouthing lyrics to a popular old Arabic song.

The house was the embodiment of Layla’s soul.

But it’s not that anymore. Layla’s home has lost its spark, the colors completely faded, leaving a sunken gray shade in their wake. It’s a husk of a home.

I make my way to the kitchen to find her lying back on the daisy-printed couch in the living room and put the bag of pita bread on the counter. As soon as I see her, my exhaustion disappears. “I’m heating up the soup. Do you want some?”

“No, I’m good,” she answers. Her voice, unlike mine, is strong with the promise of life. It’s a warm blanket cocooning me in sweet memories. “How did the boat thing go?”

Crap. I pretend to busy myself with pouring the watered-down lentil soup into the saucepan and lighting the ignition needle on the portable gas stove. “You sure you don’t want some?”

Layla sits up, her seven-months-pregnant belly stretching the navy-blue dress she’s wearing. “Tell me how it went, Salama.”

I glue my eyes to the brown soup, listening to the hissing flames. Since not long after I moved in, Layla has been nagging me to talk to Am at the hospital. She’s heard the stories of Syrians finding safety in Germany. So have I. Some of my own patients have been able to secure passage across the Mediterranean Sea via Am. How he finds the boats I have no idea. But with money, anything is possible.


I sigh, sticking a finger in the soup and finding it just about warm. But my poor stomach rumbles, not caring if it’s truly hot, so I remove it from the stove and sit beside her on the couch.

Layla looks at me patiently, her eyebrows raised. Her ocean-blue eyes are impossibly huge, nearly taking over her face. She’s always looked like autumn incarnate, with her golden-red palette of auburn hair, scattered freckles, and pale complexion. Even now, with all the pain, she still looks magical. But I see the way her elbows stick out oddly and how her once-full cheeks have narrowed.

“I didn’t ask him,” I finally say, eating a spoonful of soup and bracing myself for her groan.

And she delivers. “Why? We have some money—”

“Yeah, money we need to survive when we get there. We don’t know how much he’ll ask for, and besides, the stories…”

She shakes her head, strands of hair falling over her cheek. “Okay, yes. Some people aren’t… reaching land, but there are more who are! Salama, we need to make a decision. We need to leave! You know, before I start breastfeeding.”

She isn’t finished, her breaths becoming labored. “And don’t you dare suggest I go without you! Either you and I get on a boat together or neither of us does. I won’t be in God knows where, scared out of my mind and alone, not knowing if you’re dead or alive. There’s no way in hell that’s happening! And we can’t walk to Turkey—you told me that yourself.” She points at her swollen stomach. “Not to mention, with border guards and snipers scattered all over like ants, we’d be shot as soon as we stepped out of the Free Syrian Army’s area. We have one option. How many times do I have to repeat this?”

I cough. The soup slides thickly down my throat, landing like stones in my stomach. She’s right. She’s in her third trimester; neither she nor I can walk four hundred miles to safety, dodging death the whole way.

I set the saucepan on the pine coffee table in front of us and stare at my hands. The crisscross slashes of scars covering them are the marks death left when he tried to take my life. Some are faint, silvery, while a few are more ragged, the new flesh still looking raw despite the fact that they’ve healed. They’re a reminder to work faster, to push through the exhaustion and save one more life.

I move to pull my sleeves over them, but Layla’s hand covers one of mine gently and I look up at her. “I know why you’re not asking him, and it’s not the money.”

My hand twitches under hers.

Hamza’s voice whispers in my mind, tinged with worry. Salama, promise me. Promise.

I shake my head, trying to dissolve his voice, and take a deep breath. “Layla, I’m the only pharmacist left in three neighborhoods. If I leave, who will help them? The crying children. The sniper victims. The wounded men.”

She clutches her dress tightly. “I know. But I’m not sacrificing you.”

I open my mouth to say something but stop when she winces, squeezing her eyes shut.

“Is the baby kicking?” I immediately ask, inching closer. Even though I try not to let the worry escape, it does. With the siege, prenatal vitamins are scarce and checkups are limited.

“A bit,” she admits.

“Does it hurt?”

“No. Just uncomfortable.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

She shakes her head. “I’m fine.”

“Okay, I can hear you lying a mile away. Turn around,” I say, and she laughs before doing so.

I work through the stress knots in her shoulders until I feel the tension draining away from her. She’s barely got any fat under her skin, and every time my fingers connect with her acromion and scapula, I shudder. This… this is wrong. She shouldn’t be here.

“You can stop now,” Layla says after a few minutes. She flashes me a grateful smile. “Thank you.”

I try to return it. “It’s the pharmacist in me, you know. The need to take care of you is in my bones.”

“I know.”

I bend down and put my hands on her stomach, feeling the baby push back a bit.

“I love you, baby, but you have to stop hurting your mama. She needs to sleep,” I coo.

Layla’s smile deepens and she pats my cheek. “You’re too adorable for your own good, Salama. One of these days someone will snatch you up and take you far away from me.”

Marriage? In this economy?” I say and snort, thinking of the last time Mama told me we were having an auntie and her son over for coffee. Funny enough, they never made it. The uprising happened that same day. But I remember being giddy about that visit. At the prospect of falling in love. Looking back now, it feels as if I’m watching a different girl, one who wears my face and speaks with my voice.

Layla’s brows furrow. “It could happen. Don’t be so pessimistic.”

I laugh at her affronted expression. “Whatever you want.”

That part of Layla hasn’t changed. Back then, when I called her to tell her about the visit, she was at my doorstep within fifteen minutes, sporting a huge bag filled with clothes and makeup and squealing her head off.

“You’re wearing this!” she had announced after pulling me to my room, rolling out her azure-blue kaftan. It was a rich fabric that glided smoothly over my arms. The hemline was stitched in gold, as was the belt at the waist, where it flowed from the sides like a waterfall. The color reminded me of the sea made from rain in Spirited Away. Magical, that is.

“Pair that up with a blue eyeliner, and you’ll have him begging you to see him again.” She winked and I chuckled. “You look absolutely gorgeous in blue eyeliner!”

“Oh, I know that.” I waggled my eyebrows. “Perks of being brown.”

“Whereas I look like a bruised corpse!” She wiped imaginary tears from her eyes, her wedding ring sparkling.

“Stop being dramatic, Layla,” I laughed.

Her smile turned devilish; her blue eyes glowed. “You’re right. Hamza likes it. A lot.”

I immediately clamped my hands over my ears. “Ew, no! I don’t need to know anything about that.”

Guffawing, she pulled at my arms, trying to make me more uncomfortable, but she couldn’t string two words together coherently. Not with my mortified expression making her fall into a fit of giggles.

The sound of Layla sighing snaps me out of my daydream.

“Life is more than just survival, Salama,” she says.

“I know that,” I reply. Our teasing mood has vanished.

She gives me a pointed look. “Do you really? Because I see the way you act. You’re just focusing on the hospital, on working, on me. But you’re not actually living. You’re not thinking about why this revolution is happening. It’s as if you don’t want to think about it at all.” She pauses, holding my stare, and my mouth dries. “It’s as if you don’t care, Salama. But I know you do. You know this revolution is about getting our lives back. It’s not about survival. It’s about us fighting. If you can’t fight here, you won’t anywhere else. Not even if you changed your mind and we made it to Germany.”

I stand and gesture at the forlorn, peeling paint on the walls. At nothing. “Fight what? We’ll be lucky if the worst that happens to us here is death, and you know that. Either we’ll get arrested by the military or a bomb will kill us. There’s nothing to fight for because we can’t fight. No one’s helping us! I volunteer at the hospital because I can’t stand seeing people die. But that’s it.”

Layla looks at me but there’s no annoyance in her eyes. Only compassion. “We fight while we’re still here, Salama, because this is our country. This is the land of your father, and his father before him. Your history is embedded in this soil. No country in the world will love you as yours does.”

Tears sting my eyes. Her words echo from the history books we read at school. Love for our country is in our bone marrow. It’s in our national anthem, which we sang every morning from our first day in school. The words were just words then. But now, after all of this, they have become our reality.

Our spirits are defiant, and our history is glorious.

And our martyrs’ souls are formidable guardians.

I avoid Layla’s gaze. I don’t want a guilt trip. I’ve had enough of that already.

“I’ve lost enough in this war,” I say bitterly.

Her voice is firm. “It’s not a war, Salama. It’s a revolution.”


And with that, I walk back to my bedroom, closing the door behind me so I can breathe. All I care about—all I have left in the world—is Layla and the hospital. I’m not a monster. There are people suffering and I can help. It’s the reason I wanted to be a pharmacist. But I refuse to think about why they end up in the hospital. Why all of this is happening. The why took away Mama. I remember her fingers, cold against mine. It took Baba and Hamza to God knows where. I don’t want to dwell on the past. I don’t want to cry about how I’m going to end my teen years with nothing more than lost hope and nightmare-filled sleep. I want to survive.

I want my family. I just want my family back.

Even if what Layla says is the truth.

I change into the only pajamas I have left. A black cotton sweater and pants. Decent enough if I ever need to make an escape into the night. In the bathroom, I ignore my wasted reflection and dry brown hair falling past my shoulders and open the water tap out of habit. Nothing. The neighborhood hasn’t had water or electricity in weeks. It used to come in bursts but has stopped altogether with the siege. Luckily it rained last week, so Layla and I put out buckets to collect the water. I use a small handful for ablution and pray.

The sun’s feeble rays have vanished from my room’s scratched floorboards, and the dark cloak of the night takes over Homs. My teeth chatter for a bit with anticipation before I clamp my lips shut, swallowing thickly. Whatever control I exude during the day falters when the sun sets.

I sit on my bed, close my eyes, and take deep breaths. I need to clear my mind. I need to focus on something other than the fear and pain that have taken root in my soul.

“Sweet alyssum. Sweet as its name,” I murmur, praying for my nerves not to fail me. “White petals. Used for pain relief. Also for colds, abdominal cramps, and coughs. Sweet. Sweet.

It works. My lungs begin distributing the oxygen evenly to my blood, and I open my eyes and watch the thicket of gray clouds outside my window. The glass is chipped at the sides from when Layla’s home took the impact of a nearby bomb, and the frame is splintered. When I moved in, I had to wash blood from the pane.

Despite the window being locked, a chill sweeps the room, and I shiver, knowing what’s about to happen. The horror I see isn’t just confined to the hospital. My terror has mutated in my mind, bestowed with a life and a voice that never fail to show up each night.

“How long are you going to sit there without talking to me?” The deep voice comes from beside the windowsill, sending gooseflesh all over my neck.

His voice reminds me of the freezing water I splash over myself when I come home drenched in the martyrs’ blood. It’s stones weighing on my chest, sinking me to the earth below. It’s heavy as a humid day and deafening as the bombs the military throws on us. It’s what our hospital is built on, and the wordless sounds we make.

I turn toward him slowly. “What do you want now?”

Khawf looks at me. His suit is crisp and clean. It troubles me, though, the specks of red lining his shoulders. They’ve been there since we met, and I still haven’t gotten used to them. But I don’t like looking at his eyes either—icy blue. With his midnight-black hair, he doesn’t look human, which I suppose is the point. He looks as close to human as he can try to be.

“You know what I want,” his voice ripples, and I shiver.


All in the span of one week.

Back then I lay on a hospital bed, silent tears stinging the cuts on my face, my left thigh aching from the fall, and my bruised ribs protesting painfully every time I breathed. My hands were wrapped in such heavy gauze, they looked like mittens. Shrapnel had dug holes into my hands; the blood burst out like a fountain. But all of that was manageable.

The only serious injury was at the back of my head. The force of the explosion had me flying back, and concrete met the base of my skull, marking me for life. Dr. Ziad stitched me up. It was the first time I met him. He told me I was lucky to escape with only a scar. I think he was trying to take my mind off the fact that Mama hadn’t been as lucky. That the bomb snatched her away from me and I’d never be able to hug her again.

Later that day, when Khawf appeared and told me his name, it took a bit for me to realize I was the only one seeing him. At first I thought the drugs were giving me visions—that he would disappear when the morphine did. But he stayed by my side, whispering horrible things while I cried for Mama. Even when the pain subsided, and my ribs healed, and my hands scarred, he didn’t leave. And once that conviction settled in, panic followed soon after.

He was a hallucination who had come to stay. One who, every night for the past seven months, has cruelly plucked on my fears, breathing life into them.

There is no other explanation. Boiling him down to scientific facts is the only way I’m able to face him.

“Whatever makes you feel better.” He smiles wickedly.

I rub the scar at the back of my head, feeling the callous ridges against my fingers. “Daisies,” I whisper. “Daisies, daisies.”

Khawf brushes his hair out of his eyes and takes a pack of cigarettes out of his breast pocket. The carton is red, always the same shade as the spots on his shoulders. He plucks one long tube and presses it between his lips before lighting it. The nub blazes, eating away at the edges, and he takes a long drag.

“I want to know why you didn’t talk to Am,” he says. “Didn’t you promise yesterday you would? Like you’ve been promising me every night?” His voice is low, but there’s no mistaking the threat poisoning each word.

That’s how it started with him: a snide remark here and there, nudging my thoughts toward leaving Syria, until one day he decided I should ask Am for a boat. And he hasn’t stopped demanding I do so. Sometimes I wonder how my brain could conjure someone like him.

A drop of cold sweat trickles down my neck. “Yes,” I manage to answer.

He taps the cigarette and ash falls to the floor, disappearing just as it should hit the ground. “What happened?”

A five-year-old girl with curly brown hair died from a sniper shot to the heart while I saved her older brother from sepsis. I am needed. “I—I couldn’t.”

His eyes narrow. “You couldn’t,” he repeats dryly. “So I take it you want to be crushed under this house. Alive and broken and bleeding. No one coming to save you because how could they? Muscles as atrophied by malnourishment as yours are can barely lift bodies, let alone concrete. Or maybe you want to be arrested. Taken to where your Baba and Hamza are. Raped and tortured for answers you don’t have. Have the military dangle death as a reward and not a punishment. Is this what you want, Salama?”

My bones shiver. “No.”

He blows out one last trail of smoke before grinding the cigarette under the heel of his oxford shoe. Then he crosses the threshold and stands in front of me. I raise my head to look at him. His eyes are as cold as the Orontes River in December.

“Then couldn’t isn’t going to cut it,” he says. “You promised you would ask Am for a boat today. And three times he passed by and you didn’t.” His lips pull into a thin line, a muscle working in his jaw. “Or do you want me to go back on my deal?”

“No!” I shout. “No.”

One snap of his fingers and he could completely alter my reality, unleashing hallucination upon hallucination, showing everyone that the exterior I’ve put up is nothing more than brittle twigs against a strong wind. Dr. Ziad wouldn’t let me work at the hospital anymore. Not when I could be a danger to the patients. I need the hospital. I need it to forget my pain. To keep my hands busy so my mind doesn’t scream itself hoarse. To save lives.

Worse, I’d be piling more worries and anxieties on Layla, affecting her health and the baby’s. No. I’ll endure it all for her. I’ll drown in my tears and offer my soul to him if I can keep Layla safe in the knowledge I’m all right.

And so, Khawf has promised to keep to himself during the day and confine the terrors he shows me to the night. Far away from anyone else’s eyes.


  • Praise for As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow
    A Washington Post Best Children's and YA Books of the Year
    An Amazon Best Young Adult Books of the Year
    A Mary Sue Best YA Novels of the Year
    An NPR Best Book of the Year
    A NYPL Best Book of the Year
  • Praise for As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow:

    An Amazon Best Book of the Month

    "A searing story of war, loss, family and love, of seeking grace in madness and hope in tragedy, As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is a phenomenal tale, a piercing keen for the Syria that was and the Syria that is. An absolute must read.”—Sabaa Tahir, #1 NYT bestselling author of An Ember in the Ashes
  • "Wrenching and lyrical, As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow heralds a stunning new voice in young adult literature. This heartbreakingly beautiful novel challenges the reader to open their hearts and minds to the ongoing revolution in Syria against a ruthless dictator--one who has taken too many lives and forced nearly 13 million Syrians to flee their homeland. Zoulfa Katouh reminds us of the awesome power of love, hope, and tenacity even in the most desperate circumstances. A gorgeous, compelling read that you will not be able to put down."—Samira Ahmed, New York Times bestselling author of Internment
  • "Brilliant, beautiful, powerful. As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow will leave a profound mark on your soul, transforming the way you see love, loss, and the human capacity for resilience and hope that soars above all."—S.K. Ali, author of Love from A to Z
  • "As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow paints a stunning and often chilling portrait of the Syrian Revolution that will stay close to my heart. Zoulfa Katouh’s driving narrative, beautifully drawn characters, and thoughtful prose bleed across the page. Resilience, loyalty, and bravery intertwine into the backdrop of war and siege, brutality and terror. Teens Salama and Kenan shine with the kind of hope and love that overcomes the greatest fear. Magnificent and moving."—Laura Taylor Namey, New York Times bestselling author of A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow and When We Were Them
  • "We don’t deserve Katouh’s gorgeous words and heartbreaking story, but she has blessed us with it anyway. AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW is not only stunningly written, it’s also an incredibly important work of our time, a book that will no doubt touch millions and leave us all broken and aching for more of Katouh’s writing.”—Jesse Q. Sutanto, bestselling author of Dial A for Aunties
  • "As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow is hauntingly beautiful. Katouh masterfully tells a story that's both painful and captivating, you won't be able to put the book down. Her characters are so achingly real they'll live with you weeks after you've finished reading. The story manages to embrace fear in the time of war, love in spite of loss, and hope in the face of darkness. I cannot stress it enough, this book is a must read."
     —Huda Fahmy author of Huda F Are You?
  • "Compassionately and unflinchingly told, As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow is both a transcendent love story and a battle cry. Katouh will make you weep with sorrow, rage, and joy—and you will thank her for it. An unforgettable book from a rising star.”—Allison Saft, NYT bestselling author of A Far Wilder Magic.
  • "As gorgeous as it is groundbreakingAs Long as the Lemon Trees Grow holds many things at once: beauty and ruin; brutality and sweetness; tender love in the midst of shattering violence. Katouh writes with urgency and grace, and while she never shies from the horrors of war, neither does she miss a single note of hope—and there are so many. This book is devastatingly beautiful."—David Arnold, NYT bestselling author of Mosquitoland and The Electric Kingdom
  • Life-affirming and poignant, As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow left me speechless more than once.  As characters, Salama and Kenan leap off the page, and my heart ached for them as they bonded over Miyazaki and dared to love in the face of war-torn reality that Katouh rendered unflinchingly but with a human touch.”—Joan He, New York Times Bestselling author of The Ones We're Meant to Find
  • "As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow left me absolutely breathless. Through unflinching--and at times positively devastating--prose, Katouh paints with her words a beautiful story of home and loss, but also of defiant hope. Her pages hold within them something special, something truly rare. My heart will never be quite the same."—Ayana Gray, New York Times-bestselling author of Beasts of Prey
  • *"Katouh’s lyrical prose, combined with a moving portrayal of first love, unflinchingly depicts both the costs of revolution, and the strength it takes to fight for one’s beliefs."Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • *"Katouh’s riveting debut novel reads like the seasoned writing of Ruta Sepetys and Julie Berry and will likely find a shared audience with those titles as well.Elements of this story and facets of the drive shown by the characters will be best respected by an older teen audience. A must-read."School Library Connection, starred review
  • "...readers will linger over the many exquisite sentences in this memorable novel that honors the stories of countless Syrians. Searing in its intensity."—Kirkus
  • "Katouh masterfully weaves many threads together to form a raw, nuanced, and deeply human plot that will make you think, swoon, and brace for impact. AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW should be on the top of your must-read list.”—YA Books Central
  • "Leaving one's homeland is not an easy thing, and it can be difficult to understand if not for the stories like this, which carefully and thoughtfully account for all the trauma leading to these painful decisions."Booklist
  • "...a masterful portrait of the horrific cost of oppression and violence, and gives a compassionate face to an ongoing crisis that is responsible for immeasurable human suffering."NPR
  • * "An unflinching representation of the early days of the Syrian revolution that incorporates sophisticated and unexpected narrative techniques and surprising revelations."—Horn Book, starred review
  • “As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is a heartrending love letter to Syria from Zoulfa Katouh. This stunning tale follows Salama Kassab, a young woman who lost everything when the crisis of the Syrian Revolution broke out. She has now taken on the role of a doctor and, though haunted by the injured victims of the government, she is torn with whether to leave her country or stay. As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is equal parts hopeful and heartbreaking as it raises awareness for what is happening in Syria and proves that the country’s fight can take place from any part of the world and in any manner.”—The Mary Sue

On Sale
Sep 13, 2022
Page Count
416 pages


“At times achingly tender and at times brutal, the author’s prose creates a world so real you’ll feel your heart shatter right along with the characters.”

–Abigail, @abigailslostinabook

“Zoulfa is a genius when it comes to her raw prose and lyrical descriptions… I can’t count the number of times I cried while reading, and the stark portrayal of grief, mental health, and—most importantly—hope is one of the most powerful that I have ever read.”

– Lauren, DontGoBrekkerMyHeart

“This was a beautiful story of survival and perseverance… I would absolutely recommend for everyone to read.”

– Ashley, Ash-and-Books

“Salama is such a beautiful character, haunted by her traumas and promises while doing everything in her power to help those around her.”

– Olivia, onemused

“It’s been months since I read this book but I still can’t find the proper words to write a review fitting for this book. As Long as the Lemon trees Grow has actually altered my brain chemistry… This book is a masterpiece.”

–Mimi, @mindyourshelf

“This book was heartbreakingly beautiful. I cried multiple times… There were times I was just left staring at the page in awe or horror… This book had one big moment that shattered my already-taped up heart. When a book utterly wrecks you as this one…you know it’s good.”

–Rebecca, @libraryofbecca

“If you want something heartbreaking and real and powerful complete with Muslim rep, the sweetest romance ever, and gorgeous writing, look no further! There aren’t enough words to describe how good this is.”

–Briana, @brianas_booknook

“This was heart wrenching, it pulled me in and gripped my heart with it’s bare pages. I don’t know what to say or think except for the word Powerful.”

–Molina, @molina_lovestoread


NOVL - preview image of As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow book club guide