Paper Sparrows

There are now significantly more Lebanese people living outside Lebanon than within it. As one of them, I felt the need to write about the experiences of this diaspora. My family left Lebanon at the height of the civil war and sought refuge in the UK. This was only intended as a brief respite, but as the war raged on, it became clear that the move would be a permanent one. We visited Lebanon regularly, of course, but as time went on, the differences between the two countries became more and more marked. In the summer of 2006, when the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel suddenly erupted, I watched what was happening with horror, suspecting that when it was over, it would, like so many conflicts around the world, be quickly forgotten.

Paper Sparrows is set in that summer of 2006. Nineteen-year-old London music student, Layla, returns home for the holidays to a now peaceful Lebanon. When she arrives, though, she finds that her troubled younger brother has gone missing. "Borrowing" her father's car, she heads to Beirut to search for him, meeting a variety of people along the way. But her quest is cut short when, without warning, Beirut comes under heavy artillery fire. A new war has begun, and now she is trapped in the middle of it.

This is a story about family, young love, the joy of music, and a country in crisis. It is a story about the impact of conflict on people's lives, as well as on the environment and the creatures that inhabit it. It is a story about the desperation of not knowing what has happened to a loved one. But perhaps most of all, it is about exile, and the liminal space between two countries, two cultures, two tribes.


To read a Q&A about the writing of Paper Sparrows, click here

You can also read my guest blog posts on War And Music, With A Dog By Your Side and When You Lose Something


'A beautifully written book about memory, music and the terror of modern warfare. We need these books, full of compassion and anger, that show us the emotional damage of conflict.' - Patrice Lawrence, author of Rose Interrupted and Orangeboy

'There's a sensuous magic to this writing that caught me up and wouldn't let me go. A beautifully written story about the struggle for identity. I loved it.' - Jenny Downham, author of Before I Die, You Against Me and Furious Thing

'This is an incredible read ... A beautifully written tale of family, love, compassion and anger. Heartbreaking and heartwarming and I loved every minute.' - The Bookwormery

'I got completely lost in the last 100 pages and my day just evaporated within Nathalie's words.' - Books By The Boats

'...a fast paced read that had all the things you love in a book.' - Thebookishgurlblog

'I loved this fast paced and easy to read book. - the_lady_who_reads

'Narration at its finest pace' -

A Girl Made Of Dust

My first novel, A Girl Made of Dust, was published to critical acclaim in 2008 by 4th Estate and has been translated and sold in ten countries. It won the German LiBeraturpreis (2011), was short-listed for the Desmond Elliot Prize, Author's Club Best First Novel Award and Waverton Good Read Award. It was also on the IMPAC Dublin Award longlist, selected for the Edinburgh International Book Festival's New Voices list, and has been adapted into a film script.

Eight-year-old Ruba lives in a village outside Beirut. From her family home, she can see the buildings shimmering on the horizon and the sea stretched out beside them. She can also hear the rumble of the shelling - this is Lebanon in the 1980s and civil war is tearing the country apart. Ruba, however, has her own worries. Her father hardly ever speaks and spends most of his days sitting in his armchair, avoiding work and family. Her mother looks so sad that Ruba thinks her heart might have withered in the heat like a fig. Her elder brother, Naji, has started to spend his time with older boys - and some of them have guns. When Ruba decides she has to save her father, and uncovers his secret, she begins a journey which takes her from childhood to the beginnings of adulthood. As Israeli troops invade and danger comes ever closer, she realises that she may not be able to keep her family safe. This is a first novel with tremendous heart, which captures both a country and a childhood in turmoil.


'Captivating - A subtle, pertinent depiction of civilian life in the midst of bewildering conflict' - The Guardian

'I adored "A Girl Made of Dust". It touched my heart in so many ways ... I could not put it down. [It] wonderfully evoked that transient aspect of childhood where everything is possible. It is a book that begs to be re-read. The first time I rushed through to get to the end and the second time I slowed down to more fully appreciate the lovely language and authentic setting that Nathalie Abi-Ezzi created. '"A Girl Made of Dust" is one of those books you can't help but think about long after you finish. A truly remarkable story' - Patricia Wood, author of Lottery, shortlisted for the 2008 Orange Prize

'Ruba is a delightful and precocious narrator. Her nearest counterpart in American literature would be Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird"' - Christian Science Monitor

'Abi-Ezzi's endeavour for perfection is as clear as the presence of her exceptional talent. She describes the world of her characters with a sharp eye for the slightest detail' - Al-Hayat

'An exquisitely affecting debut novel ... equally gripping as a poignant family drama and as a visceral depiction of living with war' - Words Without Borders

'Unnervingly real and gripping. Abi-Ezzi skilfully introduces the reader to a life in fear of bombs and stray bullets, as well as how new hope can be born from affliction ' - Socialist Review

'Her well-crafted first novel offers a moving insight into a brutal conflict' - Financial Times

'A timely evocation of civilian suffering underneath the ubiquities of war ... both heartbreaking and profound, successfully eluding the cliches of associated with the coming-of-age novel while simultaneously generously enriching its vocabulary' - The Sunday Business Post (Ireland)

'In her affecting and assured first novel, Nathalie Abi-Ezzi lyrically evokes village life in rural Lebanon during civil war' - Boston Globe

'a memorable book that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend' - Book Browse readers reviews (US)

'Highly recommended' - Library Journal

'Beautifully written, lyrical, with vivid, sensual descriptions that are sophisticated yet completely believable as experienced and retained by a child' - Publishers Weekly

'This poignant and gripping debut virtually crackles with urgency and compassion' - Kiara Brinkman, author of Up High in the Trees

'[A] haunting story that raises elemental global issues that are part of headlines today' - Booklist

'the author creates a sensuous, almost dreamlike evocation of a child's perceptions, innocent and inquisitive, of a familiar setting misshapen by ancient prejudice and the approaching horror of war' - (US)

'This is a first novel of tremendous heart, which captures both a country and a childhood in turmoil' - Good Reads

'this moving portrait achieves a dark poetry' - Kirkus Reviews

'Subtle and unique' - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

'A testimony to survival' - The Australian

'Never preachy or political, Abi-Ezzi makes the reader feel the impact of savagery in the civil war ...There is no hatred in this book, only the mystified wonder of a child ... a beautifully written, powerful anti-war statement ... Ruba is a siren of hope in what could have been a nihilistic document' - Cecile Yazbek, author of Olive Trees Around My Table

'Written with such maturity, it is hard to believe that it's a debut ... It also begs the question: what happens to those without the money or means to escape a war zone?' -

'A subtle story of the civilian experience of war, as told through the eyes of a child. It's as evocative of family life as it is of conflict, but its real value is in bringing home that real people are living - or trying to live - behind the news headlines we see' - The Bookbag