A girl is born with cobalt-blue skin to a Palestinian American family on the night their ancestral soap factory in Nablus is destroyed in an air strike; the family’s matriarch believes the girl embodies their sacred family history, but as she looks back from her auntie’s graveside, she recognizes a hidden queer history speaking through the folktales, echoing her fears as she faces a decision to emigrate with the woman she loves and continue the family’s cycle of exile.
THE SKIN AND ITS GIRL
by Sarah Cypher
Ballantine, April 2023
(via Defiore & Company)
On an early-April dawn in 2003, in a Portland hospital far from the Rummani family’s ancestral home in Palestine, a stillborn baby girl comes back to life and turns a vibrant cobalt blue. On the same day, the Rumanni’s beloved soap factory in Nablus is destroyed in a bombing. To Nuha, the girl’s great-aunt, there’s no question that this inexplicable child somehow embodies their sacred family history, when the Rummanis were among the wealthiest soap-makers and their blue soap was a symbol of a famous, unlikely love.
Decades later, still impossibly blue, Elspeth returns to the gravestone of her aunt to weave together her own story, the family legends, and the thread of Nuha’s twisting life as a queer woman who hid her identity to help the family emigrate to the US. Now, Elspeth is faced with an impossible decision of her own – whether she should stay where it’s safe or leave for the woman she loves and continue the family’s cycle of exile. Elspeth navigates this choice the only way her aunt taught her how – through lies and fables braided with the truth – looking for a path forward in the words underneath the words.
Filled with stunning images and poetic repetitions inspired by Arabic ghazals that grow like a rising tide as the plot circles in on itself, THE SKIN AND ITS GIRL is about the fictions we create to explain away the magic that surrounds us, as well as the stories that can create new magic in the world. It’s about the pressure to hide in someone else’s more conventional narrative, when finally telling your own story may be the only true survival.
Sarah Cypher is from a Lebanese American Christian family that traces its history to the Kanaan soap factory in Palestine, much like the novel’s characters. She has an MFA from Warren Wilson, and her writing has appeared in the North American Review, LEON, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. She works as a freelance editor and lives in Washington, DC with her wife. THE SKIN AND ITS GIRL is her debut novel.