What Strange Paradise
Omar El Akkad | Paperback | July 2021
WINNER OF THE SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE 2021
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.
PRAISE FOR WHAT STRANGE PARADISE
'Impassioned and richly detailed, What Strange Paradise moves like a thriller and punches like a work of art. With this haunting story of refugees, high seas, sharks and Samaritans, Omar El Akkad continues on his impressive exploration of our contemporary world.' Aravind Adiga, bestselling author of Amnesty and White Tiger
'What Strange Paradise is by turns tender and brutal in its truths. It is tremendously written, propulsive as it is expansive as it is granular in its specificities. Omar El Akkad writes with such emotional precision, power, and grace. Here we get the wondrousness of children set in sharp relief against a backdrop of the all too common dehumanization then dismissal of refugees everywhere. The book devastates and uplifts, somehow, and we are not left with hope-that isn't the point-but asked to witness, to see what is here, with clarity, and with fullness of heart.' Tommy Orange, bestselling author of There There
'What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad just 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. I want to read this book every single day. I want to live in a world where the beauty of strangers is a heartsong.' Lidia Yuknavitch, author of Verge
'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 Resisters
'Extraordinary . . . Told from the point of view of two children, on the ground and at sea, the story so astutely unpacks the us-versus-them dynamics of our divided world that it deserves to be an instant classic. I haven't loved a book this much in a long time.' Wendell Steavenson, The New York Times Book Review
'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.' - Independent
'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.' - Washington Post
Country: Syria, Greece, and The Mediterranean