Han­nah Lil­lith Assa­di, author of Sono­ra: A Nov­el, is guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

My father’s fam­i­ly lived in Safed, Pales­tine for over four cen­turies, over­look­ing the lake where Jesus was said to have walked on water. In April 1948, when he was five years old, his fam­i­ly fled from Pales­tine on foot. Like so many fam­i­lies, they believed that they would return once the fight­ing had end­ed, but nev­er did. They lived in refugee camps in Dam­as­cus, for a few years before going to Kuwait where my grand­fa­ther was hired as an engi­neer. At 17, my father went to Italy, and some years lat­er moved to, and remained for 20 years in New York. He was a taxi dri­ver when he met my moth­er in a Tribeca bar. After a life of abrupt depar­tures, my father final­ly set­tled with my moth­er in Ari­zona in the ear­ly 1990s.

They were mar­ried in Andalu­sia, Alaba­ma, per­haps the first mar­riage to lend weight to the town’s name­sake, the region in Spain in which Jew­ish and Mus­lim coex­is­tence flour­ished before the Inqui­si­tion. But this was only coin­ci­dence. They were mar­ried there because my moth­er grew up in a small town named Flo­rala thir­ty min­utes south­east of Andalu­sia. Hers was the only Jew­ish fam­i­ly in that town, their estrange­ment fur­ther inten­si­fied by her father’s vehe­ment sup­port of the Civ­il Rights move­ment, and on the eve of Trump’s pres­i­den­cy she told me for the first time that neigh­bors would steal into their yard in the mid­dle of the night and poi­son their dogs. My moth­er some­times says she believes her moth­er died of long­ing for her home­town of New York, that this was why she passed so young of com­pli­ca­tions relat­ed to Alzheimer’s. My moth­er and her sib­lings left ear­ly for board­ing school, but my grand­moth­er remained with­out many friends, tend­ing most­ly to her gar­den. My grand­fa­ther, on the oth­er hand, played the piano on Sun­days at the local Bap­tist church. My moth­er has not been to Flo­rala since my grand­fa­ther passed away though it is in that town where a bur­ial plot awaits she and my father. Where I too could go to rest, should I be inclined. My moth­er shud­ders when she speaks of that town, ask­ing me if I think she has become just like her moth­er, liv­ing far from New York as she is now in Ari­zona, long­ing for New York still.

New York City, this great dream, smash­ing us togeth­er as we grip the poles of our ever stalled trains, man­aged to bring my moth­er and father togeth­er, two peo­ple of seem­ing­ly incon­gru­ent faiths and back­grounds. But it also bank­rupt­ed them. Col­lec­tions agents hound­ed my father, he believed, because he was a Pales­tin­ian. He was tak­en in for ques­tion­ing after the NYPD found let­ters writ­ten in Ara­bic in the trunk of his cab. They were let­ters from a friend who had remained in Italy about a very dan­ger­ous thing: the end of a love affair. The Mid­dle East would fol­low him every­where, except, he thought, to the desert. The desert was cheap, expan­sive, entire­ly sep­a­rate from the rest of the plan­et and its cursed politics.

Han­nah Lil­lith Assa­di received her MFA in fic­tion from the Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty School of the Arts. She was raised in Ari­zona by her Jew­ish moth­er and Pales­tin­ian father. She lives in Brook­lyn. Sono­ra is her first novel.