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‘No Land to Light On’ is a heartbreaking look at the effects of Trump’s travel ban

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In "No Land to Light On," novelist Yara Zgheib tells the story of Syrian immigrants caught in the travel ban of 2017.

They say truth is stranger than fiction. But sometimes the best way to understand brutal realities is to read a well-conceived, well-written novel about how those events play out in the lives of real — if fictional — people.

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In “No Light to Land On,” novelist Yara Zgheib relates the story of Sama and Hadi, a young Syrian couple who are in love and awaiting the birth of their first child. They’ve settled in Boston with dreams of a better life. She immigrated for college; he’s a sponsored refugee who escaped a bloody civil war.

When Hadi’s father dies suddenly in Jordan, he travels back for the funeral and promises his wife he’ll be back in a few days. But as Sama arrives at Boston’s Logan Airport to meet his return flight, she’s caught up in enormous protests. It’s January 2017, and Donald Trump has just issued an executive order banning entry from seven majority-Muslim countries. Immigration officials deny Hadi entry back into the United States, Sama goes into premature labor, and the young family is caught in the political and very personal limbo.

Days become weeks, and the couple’s American dream turns into a nightmare. Zgheib deftly weaves her story in chapters that move back and forth through time. She includes passages from Sama’s dissertation on the migratory patterns of an endangered seabird, which serve as an apt metaphor for the human experience. “Most people don’t cross rooms and oceans, embark on journeys with no promise of land to light on,” she writes.

Altogether it’s a sorrowful story of love, family and the meaning of home.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.