Today I am EXTREMELY excited to have had the opportunity to invite Zoulfa, the wonderful author of AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW (out 13th September 2022!) over on Misty Realms.
When I first heard about AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW, I was captivated my how good this book sounded, I cannot wait to read it soon! Today I interviewed Zoulfa with questions I had about AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW, so I hope you enjoy it. 🍋🧡
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh
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.
Find and pre-order As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow on:
Goodreads | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | Amazon
Interview with Zoulfa Katouh
Hello Zoulfa! Thank you so much for joining me over here on Misty Realms. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing journey till now?
Hello! I’m a debut author. My book is AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW and it’s going to be published this September by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Sep 13th) and Bloomsbury (Sep 15th). I’m a pharmacist, currently pursuing my master’s in Drug Sciences. I adore baking, BTS, journaling and walking in forests.
I participated in DVPit in 2018 that happens on Twitter where I pitched Lemon Trees to agents. My agent favourited my pitch and when I sent it to her, she requested a revise and resubmit that I was able to work on when I was chosen for Author Mentor Match. I signed with my agent summer of 2019 and spent nearly two years working on Lemon Trees. We went on sub February 2021 and I sold my book in four days, making me the first Syrian young adult author! I’ve been blessed to have sold fourteen foreign rights as well. It’s been a wild, long journey and I loved every single minute of it!
Pitch your debut novel, As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow in a short sentence!
A girl trying to find a way out of Syria before her pregnant best friend gives birth, but there are many obstacles in her way, including her PTSD that manifested into hallucinations that seem a bit too real.
Long but still a sentence xD
What inspired you to write As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow and how was the overall writing process/experience?
Living in Switzerland, I realised people don’t really know what’s going on Syria. Outside the Middle East, people don’t know. So an idea came to me to write a young adult novel about a Syrian girl and the reasons why one becomes a refugee. It’s never a choice made easily. Our stories are rarely written by us. So I decided to write one.
Okay, this seems like a question my 7th grade english teacher would ask, but what is the significance of lemon trees in your novel? Does it develop the story and characters in any way?
The story takes places in Homs, Syria. And there’s a saying there that you won’t find one home in Homs that doesn’t have a lemon tree. They’re a symbol of hope, persistence, and the title is derived from a Nizar Qabbani verse where he said “every lemon will bring forth a child, and the lemons will never die out”. It was also a slogan the protestors in Kafranbel, another Syrian city, wrote on their banners. They have the most beautiful, heart wrenching slogans.
A lemon tree takes at least five years to bear fruit. So it needs patience. And that’s how change is. It doesn’t happen within a couple of hours or a day. But it needs time. And that’s how revolutions are.
Can you tell us a bit more about our protagonist—Salama? How does she cope with the complicated feelings of wanting to stay in Syria, yet needing to leave for survival?
Salama struggles a lot in the book between her love for her country and a promise she made to her brother to take care of his wife, who also happens to be her best friend. She is torn and that is portrayed in her hallucinations and the guilt she carries about leaving. She’s a pharmacist, volunteering at the hospital and so she works until she can’t stand on her feet anymore, just to tame the guilt in her.
Poor thing really is one hair away from crying.
Salama drawn by @liyahs.arts
How would you describe the dynamic between Salama and Kenan (lemonblossom)? Without being *too* spoiler-y can you tell us how/where they meet first?
Oh! My favourite!
I can’t say too much but not everything is what it seems.
You ever see someone, and you get a deja-vu feeling? Their first meeting is something like that. I want to say Salama was an extrovert but now is cautious with her feelings and emotions. Kenan is an extrovert through and through.
In my mind, when I think of alternate universes, Kenan would be the popular boy at school with a kind heart and is busy drawing in his sketchbook in the corner. He’s also a flirt. While Salama would be a science geek who is also a cottagecore queen. Biology lab would be her favourite subject and her room is filled with potted plants and flowers.
To a certain extent, a lot of these characteristics and likes were a part of their lives before the revolution started. I think in that AU, Kenan would have the biggest crush on Salama and she’d also think he’s cute but wouldn’t think more of it until they both find out they like Studio Ghibli movies. And the rest is history!
Salama and Kenan drawn by @liyahs.arts
More Salama and Kenan drawn by @liyahs.arts
I think I heard you talk about your appreciation for Studio Ghibli films on twitter once, what are your top 3 favourites? Would you ever want to write a retelling of your favourite Studio Ghibli movie?
Studio Ghibli is the essence of my soul.
I will have to say my favorite are
- Spirited Away (the very first one I watched when I was nine. It’s my everything)
- Whisper of the Heart (I mean she writes, he makes violins. I’m gonna cry. It’s so cute)
- Howl’s Moving Castle (I mean Howl and Sophie?!)
The reoccurring one in Lemon Trees is Castle in the Sky and you will see why in the book. It was one of my favorite parts to write in the book. The parallels!
And I think I’d like to write one that reminds people of Spirited Away. I’m fascinated with all the elements Hayao Miyazaki put in the movie. Nothing was a coincidence and I would love to write something so intricate like that.
What is one dish that reminds you of ‘home’?
I could live off Kibbeh for the rest of my life! Kibbeh comes in many forms. Kibbeh labaneyeh, Kibbeh meshweye, Kibbeh me’leye. To everyone reading this, please if you’re ever in Syrian or Lebanese restaurant, order Kibbeh. It’s one that reminds me of Syria and grandma.
Are there any other projects you are working on at the moment? Would you like to share them with us !!!
I’m working on book 2 at the moment. It’s affectionately termed “stars” until the title is revealed lol. And all I can say is that Lemon Trees and “stars” are twins. They are two sides of the same coin. So look for it in 2023! I can say it’s a double POV and don’t we just love those?!
That was it! Thank you so much for your time Zoulfa, it was so so lovely having you over on my blog, and I cannot wait to read As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow and fall in love with it! Is there anything you would like to add?
Thank you so much for having me! I honestly cannot wait for the world to meet my lemon babies. They’re very excited to meet you and I cannot wait for your tears (hopefully! Haha) to fill up my “tears of my readers” mug.
Zoulfa Katouh is the only person in her family who can’t roll her tongue, but that’s okay because she writes characters who can do so. She 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. Zoulfa currently resides in Switzerland where she finds inspiration in the Studio Ghibli picturesque scenery.
Ever since her Mama gave her a copy of Anne of Green Gables when she was eight years old, she discovered the beauty of books. Soon enough she was sneaking books under her school desk to read while teachers went on about Math and Physics. Her imagination grew, and one day, she had the courage to pen down the stories that roam her mind. And she never stopped!
Her speculative contemporary YA debut AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW comes out September 13th by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and September 15th by Bloomsbury Kids & YA UK, making her the first Syrian YA author to be published in the US and UK.
FIND ZOULFA ON
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Thank you so much Zoulfa for taking your time to do this interview for Misty Realms, I had a wonderful time chatting about As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow !!!