WINNER OF THE 2021 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
From the widely acclaimed author of American War: a new novel--beautifully written, unrelentingly dramatic, and profoundly moving--that brings the global refugee crisis down to the level of a child's eyes.
More bodies have washed up on the shores of a small island. Another over-filled, ill-equipped, dilapidated ship has sunk under the weight of its too many passengers: Syrians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, all of them desperate to escape untenable lives in their homelands. And only one has made the passage: nine-year-old Amir, a Syrian boy who has the good fortune to fall into the hands not of the officials but of Vanna: a teenage girl, native to the island, who lives inside her own sense of homelessness in a place and among people she has come to disdain. And though she and the boy are complete strangers, though they don't speak a common language, she determines to do whatever it takes to save him.
In alternating chapters, we learn the story of the boy's life and how he came to be on the boat; and we follow the girl and boy as they make their way toward a vision of safety. But as the novel unfurls, we begin to understand that this is not merely the story of two children finding their way through a hostile world, it is the story of our collective moment in this time: of empathy and indifference, of hope and despair--and of the way each of those things can blind us to reality, or guide us to a better one.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Egyptian Canadian journalist Omar El Akkad’s richly detailed novel will change your perceptions about borders and migration. What Strange Paradise tells the story of a dangerous crossing as experienced through the eyes of nine-year-old Amir, a Syrian boy who’s the sole survivor of a shipwrecked migrant boat on an unnamed island. Though they’re all but complete strangers, a local teen girl named Vänna takes on the duty of ensuring Amir’s safety. El Akkad brilliantly conjures the fear and excitement of the duo’s high-risk trek across the island, turning it into a magical, almost mythical journey. He flawlessly shifts from past to present tense as alternating chapters explore Amir’s life before leaving Syria and after. We were deeply moved by this poignant, uplifting read, which celebrates the dream of a better life.
Akkad (American War) delivers a stirring if straightforward account of a young boy's flight from Syria during the country's civil war. Amir Utu sets out for Egypt with his mother, uncle/stepfather Younis, and baby stepbrother. When Younis boards a ferryboat overloaded with migrants, Amir follows him and ends up on a disastrous journey across the Mediterranean, of which he is the sole survivor. The details of what went wrong emerge gradually: first, Amir flees from soldiers on an unnamed island's beach. He is then found by disaffected 15-year-old V nna Hermes, who helps him evade detention. Here, Akkad explores a world in which migrants routinely wash up dead on the beach and are viewed as an inconvenience for wealthy tourists. The chapters alternate between the "Before" and "After" of Amir's arrival on the island, chronicling the characters and challenges Amir faces on the boat and on land, and depicting the injustice, intolerance, and violence that refugees face in a hostile global landscape. The result is a moving if somewhat predictable story of survival and the need for compassion and camaraderie across languages, cultures, religions, and borders. While readers may find themselves wishing for more complexity, there is plenty of moral clarity.
Has the world really become this cruel place?