2021 Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize
by Omar El Akkad
From the widely acclaimed, bestselling 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 overfilled, 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 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 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 of 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.
The Scotiabank Giller Prize is awarded annually to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English. The Scotiabank Giller Prize is named in honour of the late literary journalist Doris Giller and was founded in 1994 by her husband, Toronto businessman Jack Rabinovitch.