What Strange Paradise
‘Deserves to be an instant classic. I haven’t loved a book this much in a long time . . . What Strange Paradise . . . reads as a parable for our times . . . Such beautiful writing . . . This is an extraordinary book.’ – New York Times
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 ship; 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.
Deserves to be an instant classic. I haven’t loved a book this much in a long time . . . What Strange Paradise . . . reads as a parable for our times . . . Such beautiful writing . . . This is an extraordinary book.
New York Times
An extremely accomplished and moving novel, but also a gripping page-turner . . . It reads as a type of shattered fairy tale on several levels: the hopes and dreams of the boat refugees, and the superhuman feats enabling Amir and Vanna to mimic his favourite adventure stories – with an ambiguous ending leaving a devastating question mark over the whole tale.
Riveting . . . Nothing I’ve read before has given me such a visceral sense of the grisly predicament confronted by millions of people expelled from their homes by conflict and climate change.