Layla Fiske

The Fig Orchard

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The Fig Orchard Summary

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The Fig Orchard is an epic saga and debut novel written by Layla Fiske. It was published July 2nd, 2013 by Rancho Publishing, LLC. The Fig Orchard was named one of the Best Books of 2014 by Kirkus Reviews. It was the winner of the Theodor S. Geisel “Best of the Best” Book Award, winner of the San Diego Book Awards Best Historical Fiction, and the winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Historical Fiction.

Layla Fiske was born in Detroit, Michigan and grew up in Southern California. She is the daughter and granddaughter of Palestinian immigrants. Her grandmother is the inspiration for The Fig Orchard. Fiske was raised with the culture, language, and foods of the Middle East. She also had her grandmother’s stories to enrich her cultural experience and to help create a colorful tapestry in which to immerse her story. She graduated from San Diego State University and went on to a career in land use management. She raised two children and is now the grandmother of three. She and her husband reside in San Diego. The Fig Orchard is her first novel.

Set in the early twentieth century in the Middle East before, during and after World War I (WWI), The Fig Orchard is an epic story of family, love, empowerment, and heroism. It is about a young peasant woman who struggles to keep her family together in the midst of troubled times, an encroaching war, and the cultural edicts of her time.

Nisrina Huniah, the book’s protagonist, is a fifteen-year-old girl living in an isolated village which sits high above the Jordan River. She is about to marry a man she has never met yet, she falls in love with him on the night of her wedding. However, her joy is short-lived when war comes, sending her on an unexpected journey of self-discovery.

Nisrina was born in the remote village called Beit el Jebel. Her mother died during childbirth, leaving behind her grieving father, Isa. Nisrina grows up with a loving stepmother, but her emotionally distant father has made plans for her to marry instead of attending school with her closest friend, Lamia. Nisrina has misgivings about this crucial step in her life. She is a still innocent young girl and the prospect of marriage, though culturally acceptable, causes her apprehension. In spite of her feelings, she does find happiness and contentment with her new husband, Jabran Yusef. He is a decent and kind man who works in his family’s orchards.

While Nisrina is pregnant with their third child, Jabran is taken by the Turkish soldiers of the Ottoman Empire and forced to serve in their army. Nisrina is left with a seemingly impossible choice: to leave her children with Jabran’s family and remarry or find a way to support herself and her children alone.

She makes the decision to attend a Catholic university to become a midwife. This decision marks a pivotal turning point in Nisrina’s life. She struggles to keep her children with her while establishing her identity as an independent woman living in a culturally traditional society. She also holds out hope that her cherished husband will return to her one day. Throughout all of Nisrina’s suffering and altered reality, she develops relationships that influence her perception of herself and the world at large. This story of hope and redemption is set against the backdrop of daily life in an unremarkable Middles Eastern village during wartime.

Fiske has pained a stunning picture of the Holy Land in the years before, during, and after WWI. The customs, climate, dress, and food all come alive during this historical time and place. The characters are believable, both human and fallible. All of the characters are prone to their own unique sufferings. The story is told by the author with care and an inclination towards descriptive prose designed to capture imagination. It is a book written to elicit emotion. It is a sweeping epic told across borders, land, and ages. It includes a full spectrum of human experiences, including love, war, tragedy,  joy, friendship, and loyalty. Time and place weigh in heavily as the reader bears witness to the changing times of Palestine and its people during the turn of the century.