A mesmerizing debut set in Syria on the cusp of the unrest, A Word for Love is the spare and exquisitely told story of a young American woman transformed by language, risk, war, and a startling new understanding of love.
It is said there are ninety-nine Arabic words for love. Bea, an American exchange student, has learned them all: in search of deep feeling, she travels to a Middle Eastern country known to hold the “The Astonishing Text,” an ancient, original manuscript of a famous Arabic love story that is said to move its best readers to tears. But once in this foreign country, Bea finds that instead of intensely reading Arabic she is entwined in her host family’s complicated lives–as they lock the doors, and whisper anxiously about impending revolution. And suddenly, instead of the ancient love story she sought, it is her daily witness of a contemporary Romeo and Juliet-like romance–between a housemaid and policeman of different cultural and political backgrounds–that astonishes her, changes her, and makes her weep. But as the country drifts toward explosive unrest, Bea wonders how many secrets she can keep, and how long she can fight for a romance that does not belong to her. Ultimately, in a striking twist, Bea’s own story begins to mirror that of “The Astonishing Text” that drew her there in the first place–not in the role of one of the lovers, as she might once have imagined, but as the character who lives to tell the story long after the lovers have gone.
With melodic meditation on culture, language, and familial devotion. Robbins delivers a powerful novel that questions what it means to love from afar, to be an outsider within a love story, and to take someone else’s passion and cradle it until it becomes your own.
Kathryn Davis – author of Duplex and The Thin Place“Transforms the most impossibly tangled and de-humanizing aspects of the world we live in now into prose so clear and clean you could drink it.”
Zachary Lazar – author of Sway"A Word for Love artfully tells a human story while keeping a mounting conflagration (in Syria and elsewhere) constantly in its frame. Subtle, lapidary, powerful, the novel beautifully evokes the quiet of rooms and the turbulence outside, showing how an innocent evolves into a witness, and how much it costs her, and how much more it costs those she comes to love."
Rebecca Makkai – author of Music for Wartime"With lyrical precision and sharp psychology, A Word for Love asks us to consider the ways one household might become a world, one love might become a universe."
Booklist (starred review)"Bea is a winning choice as a narrator, lending the story vulnerability and authenticity... With an impressive economy of words, Robbins, formerly a Fulbright Fellow in Syria, tells a story that proves that themes of love, loss and freedom truly can transcend borders and time."
Hazlitt"Deeply affecting... Here, Syria is more than a war-torn nation -- it's a site of longing, love, and intellectual rigor."
New York Journal of Books"Emily Robbins has written a lyrical story about love in nearly all its manifestations."
Bustle"[An] extraordinary debut."
The Globe and Mail"Emily Robbins's debut novel is not about Syria so much as dictatorship in general... It is also a lyrical study of love and loss, one not to be overlooked."
The Chicago Tribune"A stunning first novel on love, loss and language."
Khaled Hosseini – New York Times-bestselling author of The Kite Runner and And the Mountains Echoed"Robbins’ melodic novel is story of war, family, language, but above all, a paean to unabashed, unbridled love. Told in quiet but elegant prose, each thump of this melodic novel’s heart (and what an enormous, rousing heart it is) attests to the timeless and life-giving power of love."