Stranger in the Desert

A Family Story

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Book Description

Inspired by family lore, a young writer embarks on an epic quest through the Argentine Andes in search of a heritage spanning hemispheres and centuries, from the Jewish Levant to turn-of-the-century trade routes in South America

One Thanksgiving afternoon at his grandparents’ house, Jordan Salama discovers a large binder stuffed with yellowing papers and old photographs—a five-hundred-year wandering history of his Arab-Jewish family, from Moorish Spain to Ottoman Syria to Argentina and beyond.

One story in particular captures his attention: that of his great-grandfather, a Syrian-born, Arabic-speaking Jewish immigrant to Argentina who in the 1920s worked as a traveling salesman in the Andes—and may have left behind forgotten descendants along the way. Encouraged by his grandfather, Jordan goes in search of these “Lost Salamas,” traveling more than a thousand miles up the spine of South America’s greatest mountain range.

Combining travelog, history, memoir, and reportage, Stranger in the Desert transports readers from the lonely plains of Patagonia to the breathtaking altiplano of the high Andes; from the old Jewish quarter of Damascus to today’s vibrant neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. It is also a fervent journey of self-discovery as Salama grapples with his own Jewish, Arab, and Latin American identities, interrogating the stories families tell themselves, and to what end.

About the Author

Jordan Salama Author Photo
© Nina Subin

Praise For This Book

Town and Country, A Must Read Book for 2024
Zibby Mag, A Most Anticipated Title of the Year
Bookshop, A Most Anticipated Title of the Year

"Part intensely personal memoir, part history, Salama’s search to learn more about who he came from will connect with readers." —Katie Moench, Book Riot

"A nonchronological personal narrative rather than a standard travel memoir, Stranger in the Desert is a reflection on family history, identity, and storytelling." —Laura Chanoux, Booklist

"Readers will be left musing on their own family histories, perhaps wondering what they might discover if they were to follow a loose thread or two." —Shelf Awareness

"Salama’s rapport with readers remains unquestioned. An accomplished sophomore effort from an unusually gifted young writer." —Kirkus Reviews

"Stranger in the Desert is a beautiful, soulful story ranging across continents and languages, topographies and etymologies, time and space. Through a pastiche of maps, diaries, and archival materials, Jordan Salama attempts to piece together a lost family history, and the result is both delightfully idiosyncratic yet somehow still universal, revealing a great deal about the elusive concepts of identity and home, and what it means to find one's place in the world by following one's roots." —Jennifer Senior, Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author

“Salama has a precocious curiosity about his family’s past and a journalist’s determination to hit the road in search of it. His book is at once a young man’s quest for identity and a travelogue that tenderly evokes the sights, sounds, and stories of his ancestors’ worlds.” —Ariel Sabar, author of My Father’s Paradise