The Map of Salt and Stars Summary & Study Guide

Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
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The Map of Salt and Stars Summary & Study Guide Description

The Map of Salt and Stars Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar.

The following verison of htis bookw as used to create this lesson plan: Zeynab Joukhadar, Jennifer. The Map of Salt and Stars. Touchstone, 2018. Hardcover.

The Map of Salt and Stars is a unique novel to summarize as it is separated between two stories; Nour and Rawiya. For simplicity’s sake, this summary has been divided into five sections, all of Rawiya and Nour’s stories have been separated within each section in the order they are told. The individual section summaries, however, will be written in the same order as the novel itself.

Part I: Syria


Rawiya, a 16-year-old whose father died years prior, leaves home to become an apprentice mapmaker. She disguises herself as a boy named Rami and finds the legendary mapmaper Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi (shortened to al-Idrisi throughout the novel) by answering his three riddles correctly. He welcomes her to his expedition and she, along with his second apprentice Bakr, head to Palermo, Sicily. There, Rawiya meets al-Idrisi’s closest friend King Roger who tells Rawiya that she will accompany al-Idrisi on his greatest mission: to put together the most accurate map of the world ever created.

The expedition travels first to Hama where Rawiya hears stories of a body being ripped apart by a creature of some kind. On the way to their second city, Homs, they are chased by the legendary monster called the Roc. They escape when Rawiya hits it in the belly with a rock, but it follows them to the city. Al-Idrisi decides they will avoid the main road and camp out to avoid the Roc until they reach ash-sham. As they get closer, however, they meet a poet name Khaldun who told the emir (the ruler of ash-Sham) such good stories that the remir falsely believed they were about Khaldun. After locking up Khaldun’s family, the emir demands he he defeat the Roc that has been terrorizing his people or be put to death. Khaldun believes that the Roc will kill him, but Rawiya comes up with a plan.

Khaldun sings the Roc to sleep and then climbs on his back. From there, Bakr and al-Idrisi wake up the bird, startling it long enough that Rawiya can aim a rock at its forehead. However, she misses slightly, knocking out the bird’s eye. As Khaldun leaps to safety, the Roc swears his revenge and leaves for his hunting grounds. Rawiya picks up the eye and it turns to stone. In ash-Sham, the emir praises the expedition and Khaldun commits himself to Rawiya’s service for saving his life.


Nour, implied to be around ten years old, is living in Manhattan when her father (who she calls Baba) dies of cancer. As the family struggles to survive and her mother slips into depression, they are invited to Homs, Syria by Baba’s closest friend and adopted brother Abu Sayeed. Three months later, Nour decides to tell Baba’s favorite story about the mapmaker Rawiya to the fig tree in the hopes that Baba will hear it again. She is interrupted by a far-away explosions as her mother calls her back inside.

Nour and her sisters Huda and Zahra are sent to the marketplace for Cumin. On the way there, Huda comments on the increase in protests in the city and the high prices of food. Zahra mocks Nour’s inability to speak Arabic, but Huda defends her. After they see another group of protesters, the girls rush home to find their mother painting another map. She asks Nour what each color means, as Nour has synesthesia which allows her to see colors in sounds, sights, and smells. Each color represents a letter in Nour’s synesthesia alphabet, but she does not understand why her mother keeps asking her about it.

Abu Sayeed comes over for dinner, but the electricity goes out and Nour cannot get any water. Suddenly, a bomb hits the house, gravely injuring Huda and destroying their entire neighborhood. They rush to Abu Sayeed’s house, but are forced to drive all the way to Damascus to find a hospital for Huda. From there, they head toward Jordan, but their car breaks down. A woman named Umm Yusuf offers them a ride alongside her daughter and a nameless storyteller. When the reach the border, Nour does not understand why they have to leave the storyteller behind, as he cannot cross the border without a family of his own.

Part II: Jordan/Egypt


The expedition then heads south along the border between two warring factions: the Fatimids and the Almohads. They reach an old entertainment site called Wasr Amra that has a dome called a frescoes, which contains accurate drawings of many constellations and their positions in the sky. From there, they head toward Jerusalem, but are driven off course by a sandstorm. A man named Halim gives them shelter, even though the Fatimids believe the expedition are spies for King Roger. Later in their travels, they are surrounded by Fatimid soldiers led by Ibn Hakim. He demands they go with him to Cairo. However, when he picks up the Roc’s eye that Rawiya drops, he fearfully slices it in half after hearing the voice of his dead mother. He forces them to the soldiers camp, but the expedition escapes when Khaldun sings a song that coerces all the men to dance themselves to exhaustion.

Despite this, Ibn Hakim chases them all the way to Cairo where Rawiya, Khaldun, and Bakr all run into a dye factory to try and escape. Bakr is killed protecting Rawiya as she knocks Ibn Hakim out. The workers help her and Khaldun escape and they return to the expedition with Bakr’s body. They all run from Cairo, only stopping to bury Bakr near the nile. Unfortunately, they are caught again by the other warring empire, led by Mennad who wants to use al-Idrisi’s maps and knowledge to win the war. Believing they are going to die, Rawiya reveals her true name to Khaldun alone. He swears to stay by her side regardless and they come up with a plan for escape.


The family head to the apartment of Umm Yusuf’s mother, Siit Shadid, who treats Nour like her own granddaughter. They all stay in one room, but tensions flare between them when Zahra complains and her mother tells her they barely have money for food. Nour then goes to Abu Sayeed and they talk about Baba who Nour only remembers by the colors of his voice. The next day, Umm Yusuf’s son Yusuf comes home. However, between his argument with his grandmother and the far away sound of a bomb, Nour runs from the house terrified. She gets lost for an entire day before she manages to wander back. At home, however, her mother discovers she has lice and is forced to shave off all of Nour’s hair.

Over the next few weeks, Nour’s mother tries to apply for asylum in America. Unfortunately, only Nour is a natural born citizen and it will take years before anyone else can be processed. Nour’s mother, Abu Sayeed, and Umm Yusuf decides to take both families in the van to Aqaba where they will take a ferry to Egypt and travel south from there. Along the way, Nour finds a stone that matches the description of the Roc’s eye from Rawiya’s story and plans to show it to Abu Sayeed who loves special rocks.

When they arrive in Aqaba, Huda and Nour travel to a butcher shop together for some meat. On the way back, however, Huda is forced into an alleyway by two teenage boys who plan to assault her. Rawiya fights them as long as she can before Abu Sayeed arrives and scares the boys away. Huda refuses to tell anyone else what happened, and Nour struggles to look at Yusuf because he reminds her too much of the attackers.

That night, they board the ferry to Egypt and Nour sits with Abu Sayeed. To try and comfort her, he tells her that he is also a little scared, as he does not know how to swim. He promises her that God has a plan, even if they do not know it yet, and Nour needs to have faith that she will one day find the answers. Suddenly, the engine of the ferry malfunctions and catches fire. Abu Sayeed stays on board holding the life raft close so that Nour, her family, and Yusuf’s family can all get on. After saving a fellow passenger, Abu Sayeed is blinded by smoke and forced to jump. He misses the raft and drowns before rescue boats arrive.

After landing in Egypt, Nour and the others pray for Abu Sayeed’s soul and Nour wishes they had never left Homs. Zahra angrily tells her that there is nothing there, but Nour calls Zahra a spoiled brat who cares more about jewelry than her family. Zahra reveals that her favorite bracelet was a gift from Baba, but the argument is cut short when they find the schedule for a bus that will take them to Benghazi.

At their first stop in Cairo, Nour and her mother go on a walk together. Her mother tells Nour that Baba found the missing piece of his map when Nour was born and would be very proud of her. She then tells Nour about her first home in Ceuta and gives Nour a piece of the old fountain that was destroyed in a storm. She then says to follow their map - one of the few possessions they have left - if they are ever separated. Nour wonders how, since the map does not have any names on it, only colors. They then return to the bus that takes everyone to Benghazi.

Part III: Libya


The expedition is put on the front lines in battle against the Fatimids as Mennad expects them to be killed. He keeps al-Idrisi’s book close to him as they march forward. Al-Idrisi sees ships with King Roger’s flag in the distance and knows they must get to them. However, Rawiya realizes they are on the Roc’s hunting grounds, and giant snakes begin to eat Mennad’s men. He tries to escape with the book, but is captured by a snake. Rawiya chases him down and promises to save him in exchange for the book. Unable to escape the snake, he relents and returns the book. After saving him, the expedition rides to the ships, using King Roger’s seal in al-Idrisi’s book to prove who they are. The Roc, however, pursues them into open water. When he attacks the ship, Khaldun accidentally says Rawiya’s real name, and al-Idrisi feels betrayed by her deception. As the Roc is about to kill her, however, he tells her that she has the courage he wished his daughter would have had had she not drowned years prior. He tosses her the Roc’s eye which she uses to knock it into the ocean, drowning it. The crew cheer for Rawiya as al-Idrisi gifts her a jeweled scimitar he got earlier in the journey. He thanks her, as he believes the expedition would not have succeeded without her. They return to Palermo and work tirelessly for months to finish the map, a detailed atlas called the Book of Roger, and a beautiful silver planisphere for an ailing King Roger. The night they finish, however, King roger dies.


Once they stop in Benghazi, Zahra takes Nour on a walk. Zahra apologizes to Nour and says that she should have been there for her after Baba died. Instead, Zahra says she slipped into a dark place and felt completely alone, ignoring her family. When they return to the station, they are shocked to see Huda in a barely conscious state. Nour’s mother suggests they sneak onto another ferry to get to Algeria’s border, while Umm Yusuf says they should drive. Yusuf, despite his growing affection for Zahra, refuses to leave his grandmother who is terrified of the water after the last accident. They agree to split up as Nour’s mother knows Huda needs help. At the ferry depot, Yusuf stays with them into the night and Nour apologizes for the way she saw him after the boys attacked Huda. He gives her his pocket knife for protection and says she should never have had to suffer the way she did.

That night, Nour dreams of falling into the Red Sea. She wonders if God feels all the suffering in the world, but imagines His heart beating within everything. She sees His smile, and pictures herself as a rock that God will one day wipe all the salt off of. Yusuf leaves, but Nour is unable to wake up Huda. Her mother gives Nour the map and the rest of their money and tells her to go with Zahra onto the ferry. She promises to find them, picks up the dying Huda, and leaves.

Zahra and Nour sneak into the ferry cargo bay. Once there, Nour realizes that the colors on her mother’s map match letters from their synesthesia colors game and determines that they are to find Baba’s brother, Uncle Ma’mun, in Ceuta. The girls are forced to hide when men come down to inspect the cargo once they are out on the water. On the way, the ferry is struck by a rocket and the ferry breaks apart. Both Nour and Zahra are sucked out into the open water, and Nour manages to reach the surface with her mother’s bag and the map safely inside a waterproof bag. She drags Zahra to the shore when they realize they ferry had almost arrived at its’ destination before the attack. Unfortunately, the border to Algeria is already closed. This forces Zahra to pay a smuggler to get them across.

Part IV: Algeria/Morocco


As King Roger’s heir William becomes King, the dukes of Palermo plot against him. Six years later, Rawiya and Khaldun meet in the castle gardens where Khaldun says he wants to be Rawiya’s husband. Before she can respond, rebels attack the palace. They run inside and find al-Idrisi trying to save the books and the planisphere from the workshop. However, Khaldun is shot by an arrow, and Rawiya runs with the Book of Roger and al-Idrisi. After they escape, Rawiya returns for Khaldun. Once inside, she fights off a number of rebels who have set the palace on fire and, unable to find Khaldun, grabs Ptolemy’s book Geography and returns to al-Idrisi. However, Khaldun arrives, revealing that he saved the planisphere and the arrow had shot clean through him. The group decides to hide the priceless planisphere on a remote island before heading to Ceuta.


A week later, Nour, Zahra, and a bunch of other refugees are driven through the desert with very few breaks and very little water. At night, they are told they will be crossing the border on foot. Many of the people are shot by border patrol guards, but Zahra and Nour escape with many cuts from barbed wire. They begin wandering through the desert unable to find a road. Nour almost gives up as she believes there will be no one waiting for them on the other side. Zahra tells her they have to keep going but agrees they should rest. That night, Nour sees a man on a camel, but neither can speak the other’s language. He calls a woman over after he and Nour connect over a love for the stars and Zahra wakes up. The woman, who can speak many different languages, helps them onto the camels and takes them to their tent. Once there, Zahra tells the woman, Itto, everything that has happened. Itto agrees to take them to a city called Ouargla where they may be able to find a truck that will take them to Ceuta. They travel with the family for over a week. Once there, Itto helps them sneak onto a refrigeration truck and they wish each other goodbye.

The truck travels for many miles as the girls slowly begin to freeze to death. Unsure if they are going in the right direction, Nour is relieved when the trucks stop and they hear Spanish outside. The driver opens the door and is shocked to see them. Border patrol agents quickly take them to a camp as Zahra tries to tell them they are looking for their Uncle. The leaders of the camp, called Madres, tell Nour and Zahra that they may be moved to a detention center in the future if nobody comes for them. For now, however, they are welcome to stay in the center, will have food for every meal, and be taken to school to learn Spanish. That night, Nour angrily looks at the map, believing it has failed her. However, she realizes that her mother left poems on each country they visited, hidden by the acrylic paints. Nour remembers the piece of her mother’s fountain and realizes that their Uncle Ma'mun owns the exact same home as al-Idrisi in Rawiya’s story.

Part V: Ceuta


After arriving in Ceuta, Rawiya and Khaldun accompany al-Idrisi to his old home. Despite being the only one left in his family, he cherishes the old house and its’ memories. Rawiya and Khaldun then go to Rawiya’s house. Her mother is thrilled to see her and Rawiya is surprised to see her brother Salim alive as he had been a sailor before she left. Her mother welcomes Khaldun into her home and happily blesses their marriage. The next day, they return to al-Idrisi who tells Rawiya that the prophecy of the Roc is now complete. She asks what they could possibly learn from the violence and destruction they saw. Al-Idrisi tells her that there may not be a lesson, for many stories continue on.


Zahra, who does not believe that Nour can find his home, decides to leave Nour in the camp while she heads out on her own. Desperate, Nour is stopped by a Madre who gives Nour some candy and promises that everything will be okay. However, Nour hears the colors of Yusuf’s voice and escapes the camp by jumping down from the top floor and over a fence into the woods. She is overjoyed to find him alive and he tells her that he and his family have already applied for asylum. They head into town and find Zahra who immediately kisses Yusuf. They search the city for the home with the fountain, but find nothing. That evening as they are sitting on a hill, Nour recognizes the scene from Rawiya’s story and sprints back down the hill. She leads them to a home with a fence and a fountain. Yusuf helps her over and she knocks on the door. A man opens it and she shows him the piece of the fountain, calling herself Rawiya. The man is revealed to be Uncle Ma'mun who has been waiting for Nour and Zahra for months. He lets all of them inside where they are reunited with Huda and her mother who snuck over the border in a similar way to Zahra and Nour. Happy to finally be home, Nour hugs Huda.

A few weeks later, Nour, Huda, and Zahra go to the La Puntilla dock with Sitt Shadid who waits away from the water. They all sit at the edge of the water and Nour thinks of the two refugees that have moved into their home while Uncle Ma’mun helps them apply for asylum. Nour correctly guesses that Yusuf has asked Zahra to marry him, but she says he actually went to their mother first. Regardless, Zahra knows she will say yes. Huda asks if Nour still has her mother’s map of stories, and Nour says she does. When they return home, Nour takes Huda to her room where they hang up their mother’s map. As Nour looks at it, she decides to fill in the empty space left over Ceuta herself.

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