What Strange Paradise is a beautiful, angry novel about the migrant crisis in Europe. Expertly teasing out the strings of exile, pride, greed, trauma, longing, and hope that entangle his diverse characters, El Akkad makes clear indictments without sacrificing the complex emotions of the “bad” actors — the smugglers, the Greek islanders struggling with an influx of migrants, the apathetic tourists, a nationalistic and traumatized military. Simultaneously a narrative of hope and a devastating portrait of what is happening in our world, right now, What Strange Paradise is an example of how fiction at its best does more to explicate and illuminate the challenges we face than any newspaper headline or documentary could accomplish. Recommended By Rhianna W., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From the widely acclaimed, best-selling 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.
“El Akkad... expertly contrasts the well-paced story of Amir’s predicament with the ill-fated voyage that brought him to Greece. The ragtag bunch of strangers on the boat forms an incredibly well-drawn portrait of humanity as everyone bonds together initially, even with dollops of humor thrown in... A suspenseful and heartbreaking painting of the refugee crisis as experienced by two children caught in the crosshairs.” — Booklist (starred)
“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, author of The White Tiger and Amnesty
“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
“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
“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, author of There There
Watch the Powell’s virtual event with Omar El Akkad and Roy Scranton!
About the Author
Omar El Akkad is an author and a journalist. He has reported from Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, and many other locations around the world. His work earned Canada’s National Newspaper Award for Investigative Journalism and the Goff Penny Award for young journalists. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, Le Monde, Guernica, GQ, and many other newspapers and magazines. His debut novel, American War, is an international bestseller and has been translated into 13 languages. It won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, the Oregon Book Award for fiction, and the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, and has been nominated for more than ten other awards. It was listed as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, GQ, NPR, and Esquire, and was selected by the BBC as one of 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.
Omar El Akkad on PowellsBooks.Blog
Portland-based writer Omar El Akkad’s latest work, What Strange Paradise
, is a beautiful, angry novel about the migrant crisis in Europe. Expertly teasing out the strings of exile, pride, greed, trauma, longing, and hope that entangle his diverse characters, El Akkad makes clear indictments without sacrificing the complex emotions of the “bad” actors...