What Strange Paradise
From the widely acclaimed author of American War, Omar El Akkad, a beautifully written, unrelentingly dramatic and profoundly moving novel 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 had 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 Vänna: 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 Vänna and Amir are complete strangers and don’t speak a common language, Vänna determines to do whatever it takes to save him.
In alternating chapters, we learn the story of Amir’s life and of how he came to be on the boat; and we follow the duo as they make their way towards 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. Omar El Akkad's What Strange Paradise 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.
Resuscitated my heart. This novel—following a boy who survives a refugee passage, and a girl whose homeland feels fractured—dares to unite us on the shore of shared human experience, and redefines hope in the face of despair.
Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water
It is one thing to put a human face on a migrant crisis and another to do so in so compelling a way that a reader simply cannot put your book down. I read this in one sitting, my heart pounding the whole way--in a strange paradise, you might say. Marvelous.
Gish Jen, author of The Resistors
What an imaginative, touching, and necessary novel Omar El Akkad has brought to us. It reminds us of the human stories behind headlines and statistics, and gives us one of the most memorable children characters, whose story adds urgency and poignancy to that "awfully big adventure" stated by Peter Pan.
Yiyun Li, author of Where Reasons End