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Finding Our World Between the Pages of ‘As Long As The Lemon Trees Grow’

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

It’s a love letter to Syria — as Zoulfa Katouh describes it — a country that has been suffering for decades where children and families hope to seek refuge in a place to finally call their own.

The strife in Syria was once felt beyond our reach, but the author of As Long As The Lemon Trees Grow did a beautifully psychedelic job putting pen to paper, inspired by her people’s lived experiences during the civil war. 

“Every lemon will bring forth a child, and the lemons will never die out.”

Nearly 7.5 million children in Syria need humanitarian aid in 2024 due to the deteriorating economic crisis.

Sound familiar? Today, we can visibly see over one million children in Gaza through our screens not receiving humanitarian aid, with many stuck under the rubble who lost their mothers and fathers, sisters, and brothers, holding onto hope for a peaceful tomorrow. 

When reading As Long As The Lemon Trees Grow, all I could think about was how the protagonist, Salama, was given the responsibility to be her pregnant sister-in-law’s caregiver during bombings on innocent civilians. Not only that, but she is forced to work in a hospital, a target for war, and save suffering people dying at the hands of the government.

At only 18 years old, Salama battles to maintain her mental health and trauma responses in the face of unimaginable atrocities while also deciding whether to stay in Syria and fight for her people or flee the nation she loves and save her family. 

It was the first time I read a novel where I was immersed in the unimaginable realities people face in countries outside of mine. I was not willing to accept that this was Syria’s absolute reality and felt their stories as a place far away, out of reach. I now see the tragedies unfold in Gaza, where children find hope where none can be found — and I found our sick world in between the pages of Katouh’s true story. 

“I am owed a life that does not end in tragedy.”

From videotaping agony in hospitals to bombings and protests, a boy hopes to share the realities of Syria with society outside of his own. Salama meets a boy named Kenan after saving his younger sister’s life. Kenan films the horrific events taking place and hopes to document them to reach countries outside of Syria. Given the opportunity to escape Syria under financial compensation, he refuses to leave until the truth is visible to the world. Does that remind you of something you have heard before? 

Kenan’s story parallels Motaz Azaiza’s — a 25-year-old journalist who risked his life in Gaza while bringing justice to untold stories. We’ve been collectively keeping up to date with Azaiza’s coverage since Oct. 7, 2023. It has all been and still is happening in front of our eyes. 

After being threatened to stop sharing content, harassed with direct phone calls, and physically targeted by airstrikes, Azaiza sacrificed himself with his commitment every single day for three months. It was with his hope that people around the world were aware of the type of atrocities his people have been involved in for years. 

As Long As The Lemon Trees Grow depicts both the visible and hidden aspects of the war. It shows the real difficulties of undergoing conflicts outside of our fortunate country, which the news and media fail to show.

Now, here we are half a year later, and our world has changed, yet we are still nowhere near the action of freedom until innocent Palestinians finally get their right to live. 

There are school kids in Gaza playing around and singing their hopes and dreams to become doctors and Hollywood stars once they get old. A father is holding his two sons’ ashes in bags, one son in the right hand and one son in the left, while their bodies are not intact enough to hug one last time. And a boy is staying alive for the sake of his baby sister, even though he knows heaven seems brighter from under the rubble. 

We can only hope that an olive tree flourishes just as far as a lemon tree can. Let us pray that it all turns out fine, just as long as they grow.

Hadiqah Khalil

Toronto MU '26

Hadiqah Khalil is a second-year Journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University. Her favourite read is As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh and has watched The Greatest Showman film thirty times since its release date. Hadiqah hopes to represent Muslim women in the media, and loves bringing the spotlight to untold stories.