The young Syrian author Zoulfa Katouh has seen deals for her YA novel As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow sweep across Europe. The novel, which will be published in September, was pre-empted by Little, Brown in the US, and is to be published by Bloomsbury in the UK. She is the first Syrian YA author to be published in both the US and UK, but as yet there is no Arabic sale.
The novel, billed as a ‘love letter to Syria, Syrians and hijabi girls’ tells the story of Salama, a pharmacy student who volunteers at a hospital and is torn between a desire to leave the country as it descends into civil war and loyalty to her sister-in-law who is about to give birth. And then she meets Kenan and other feelings emerge against the backdrop of war.
In a fascinating interview in the Bookseller Katouh says she was prompted to write the book after realising that many people in Europe didn’t even understand what the Syrian revolution was about, or the horrors that were taking place. “I split my childhood between Dubai and Switzerland,” the author said, “and obviously in the Arab world everyone knows what is happening in Syria, but when I moved permanently to Switzerland people from Europe didn’t really know what was going on.”
She adds that she wanted to give a positive portrayal of Muslims and of Muslim women who, like Katouh herself, are happy to wear the hijab. She touches on some sensitive issues when she talks about the difference in attitude to Ukrainian refugees as opposed to refugees from Syria and elsewhere. She believes the world should absolutely help Ukrainian refugees, but notes that the difference in treatment they get compared to people coming from Syria or Afghanistan is “horrible”. Switzerland gave Ukrainian refugees free train passes, she says, and yet the opportunities for Syrian refugees in the country are limited.
Katouh holds a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Drug Sciences. She is trilingual in English, Arabic and German, and currently resides in Switzerland.
She is represented by Alexandra Levick at Writers House in New York and the full list of territories to which As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow has been sold is as follows:
US: Little, Brown
UK: Bloomsbury Children’s
Brazilian Portuguese: Verus
Netherlands: Blossom Books
World Spanish and Catalan rights: Casals
The agency says it is hopeful of an Arabic sale soon and has taken on a specialist in the region, Amelie Cherlin, as a subagent handling Arabic and Persian language sales.