Cover Image: What Strange Paradise

What Strange Paradise

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This book begins on a Greek island, more bodies have washed up on the beach. This is a regular occurrence - as thousands of refugees pay vast sums of money, to gain passage on packed, ill equipped boats desperate to leave their lives at home.  There is one survivor from this sunken boat, a Syrian nine year old boy , Amir. He opens his eyes on the beach and runs.

What Strange Paradise examines the global migrant crisis through the eyes of Amir. It’s told in alternative chapters his life before the boat sinks and his life now on the Greek island, where he meets Vanna, a 15 year old girl who rescues him. They don’t speak the same language but she is determined to protect him.


There is so much in this short book- hope, hostility, friendship, loss , adventure, desperation and compassion. By telling this story from Amir’s perspective , the book strips away the political, there is a lightness woven through parts of the story despite the subject matter. The writing is incredible, the story is engaging and it’s probably the most thought provoking book I’ve read this year. I’m reluctant to say more but a strong recommendation from me, for this one.

I couldn’t put it down, I reread sections of this book after I finished it and I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

A beautiful powerful read.

5 ⭐️
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This is one of those books that you want to buy for someone else to read, so that you can talk about it properly. We have all seen the distressing images of dead children washing up on the shores of countries such as the one in this book. The story here follows that of Amir, who, like so many children washes up on a beach but sadly unlike so many others, wakes up.

It is difficult to say too much without spoiling the story for others and it really is a book where, to know the ending would, I think, affect the...enjoyment is the wrong word, appreciation? of the book. In this respect, it reminded me of the incredible Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel.

The whole story has an almost detached, dreamlike feel, largely I think, because of the very small amount of dialogue between the two main characters. They each speak to those around them but the language barrier means that they don't often communicate with each other using speech.

Following the advice from one of the earlier reviews on here, I have read this interview (https://www.powells.com/post/interviews/powells-interview-omar-el-akkad-author-of-what-strange-paradise) with the author and feel that this has given me greater understanding of the story and how/why it was written. I highly recommend doing this, but only after finishing the book, which everyone should do, as it is a truly incredible.
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What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad is a stunning and searing novel about the refugee crisis. Told through the eyes of two children. Amir, a nine year old boy whose family has fled Syria. Amir follows his Quiet Uncle onto a boat only to be swept ashore on a small island. And Vanna a teenage girl native to the island who seeks to help secure Amir a safer future. The chapters alternate between ‘before’ and ‘after’ giving the reader an insight into the hostile world Amir has fled, his traumatic journey on a boat and his arrival to a new world that rejects his very presence. It is an essential, moving novel that explores the human story behind the headlines and gives voice to the bodies that have come ashore. Poignant and compelling this book is a must read.
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Throughout this book we are given alternating chapters focusing on Amir's journey, pre and post passage. The chapters that focus on Amir's life before his journey to Greece allow readers to see the danger of Syria and the severity of the immigrant crisis in Egypt. From here, I discovered my favourite parts of the novel, Amir's crossing to Greece. We follow Amir onto the small ramshackle of a boat, which barely stays afloat throughout the duration at sea. Although Amir accidentally finds himself upon the boat, I was stunned by the sheer resilience and bravery he demonstrated, being a boy of nine years old and completely alone. Omar El Akkad penned a description that provides readers with a brutal account of what immigrants must face, yet it is so pertinent to society at present. On the news we see stories of both families and individuals who risk their lives by swimming or sail across oceans and seas, fleeing terror and violence with the minuscule hope of a better a life. I felt this was extremely brave and it certainly provided me with an awareness I never knew I needed.


Dislikes
As the novel is set within three or four days maximum, certain aspects of the story felt drawn out. Perhaps if these sections were condensed, we could have explored Amir's background to gain further insight into his situation and why he was fleeing Syria. Moreover, we could have also explored Amir's life upon leaving Greece. We know he was travelling to the mainland but where exactly did he land? With whom did he seek support and guidance? Did he ever finally make it home or did he realise he did not want to return? Perhaps these questions were left unanswered, but I felt there could have certainly been room to answer them.


Final thoughts
For a book with very little dialogue, I felt it spoke volumes. Although the alternating chapters were enjoyable, the description of Amir's journey across the Mediterranean Sea truly sold this novel to me. Powerful descriptions were all that were needed to divulge the truly horrendous journey of an illegal immigrant.
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What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad was a different reading experience for me as I rarely read books with children as main characters. It will stay with me for a long time. 

Many of you probably remember the shocking photo of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in 2015 after trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. 

This book imagines what would happen if the boy woke up and started to run. For the sake of the story, our protagonist Amir is nine years old (instead of 3), and gets help along the way from Vänna, a local 15-year old girl. 

What I loved:
- The pace of the book, which alternates between "Before" (the wreckage on the beach) and "After" chapters, which is essentially a chase. 

- El Akkad's writing style. This is a perfect example of literary fiction, with passages which read like poetry, and others which made me laugh. Examples at the end of this review. 

- The dialogues between some of the refugees, which are stuck together on a rickety fishing boat for the illegal passage to Kos. There are reflections about politics, literature, religion, the West, often infused with a sarcastic sense of humour but also hope and morality. 

- The subtle denunciation of toxic masculinity. When I say subtle - it would be easy to miss how certain male characters have fallen pray to violence, alcoholism, cynicism and exploitation because of pride and a patriarchal society's expectations of what a man must be like. There are some incredible lines of dialogue between a general (our "villain") and his soldiers, for example. 

What would have made it an absolute masterpiece: 

- A longer book with backstories for some characters. I would have loved to read more about Vänna's parents, madame El Ward, Umm Ibrahim, the African refugees stuck in the lower part of the boat, or even the smugglers...

- I only picked up on some messages/details of the book by reading an excellent interview of the author (available here: 
https://www.powells.com/post/interviews/powells-interview-omar-el-akkad-author-of-what-strange-paradise )
I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but after reading the book, even though there are no major spoilers in it. Perhaps some references or ideas were too subtle for the general public (me included). For instance: the flora and fauna of the island is imaginary. I never would have picked up on it if not for the interview! 

⭐⭐⭐⭐💫 (rounded up to 5) All in all, one of my favourite 2021 reads so far, and a highly recommended one if you want to educate yourself on the refugee crisis whilst reading a suspenseful novel. 

Thank you Net Galley and @panmacmillan for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for an honest review! 

I heard that El Akkad's debut novel (American War) is excellent too, so I will definitely pick it up!

Quotes:
"Years earlier, before he was disappeared, Loud Uncle said only a coward survives the absurd."

"There's no such thing as conflict. There's only scarcity, there's only need."

"The boat sailed on. At times the clouds overhead uncouple and a wash of moonlight gave the whole vessel shape. Hours passed. Amir waited for dawn, for light." 

"But the two kinds of people in this world aren't good and bad - they're engines and fuel. Go ahead, change your country, change your name, change your accent, pull the skin right off your bones, but in their eyes they will always be engines and you will always, always be fuel." 

"... they will write to politicians on your behalf, they will cry on your behalf, but you are to them in the end nothing but a hook on which to hang the best possible image of themselves. Today you are the only boy in the world and tomorrow it will be as though you never existed."
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"The child lies on the shore. All around him the beach is littered with the wreckage of the boat and the wreckage of it's passengers."

So begins What Strange Paradise a relentlessly thought-provoking new book by Omar El Akkad.

Amir is the sole survivor of a ship filled wtth refugess which was wrecked on the shore of an unnamed Island. Amir has already faced so much in his young life and now he finds himself alone in a hostile new place where he doesn't know the language. 

Vanna is a fifteen year old girl who has lived on the island her whole life and feels like an outsider even within her own family. When she encounters Amir she feels the need to help him despite the fact they have no common language. 

Many of the adults on the island view the wreckages as an inconvenience at best and have stopped seeing the bodies as people. 

"In the last year it has happened with such frequency that many of the nations on whose tourism the islands economy depends have issued travel advisories. The hotels, and resorts, in turn have offerred discounts. Between them, the coast guard and the morgue keep a partial count of the dead, and as of this morning it stands at 1,026 but this number is as much an abstraction as the dead themselves are to the people who live here, to whom all the shipwrecks of the previous year are a single shipwreck, all the bodies a single body." 

There were several passages in this eye-opening book that will stay with me for a long time after finishing the book:

"And when you finally get over there to the promised land, and you see how those dignified, civilised Westerners treat you - when you find out what they expect of you is to live your whole life like a dog under their dinner table - I'll wait for you to come find me to apologise . 

You think the black market is bad Brother, wait till you see the white market." 

With the recent events in Afghanistan this final quote has been on my mind a lot in the last few days and should serve as a reminder that empathy for refuges shouldn't just be a temporary thing. 

"You are the temporary object of their fraudulent outrage, their fraudulent grief, they will march on the streets on your behalf, they will write to politicians on your behalf, they will cry on your behalf, but you are to them in the end nothing but a hook on which to hang the best possible image of themselves. Today you are the only boy in the world and tomorrow it will as though you never existed." 

A must read book.
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I honestly have no words after finishing this book.

It's heartbreaking. If you were reading the news around 2015, you might've seen the photograph of the 'boy on the beach', Alan Kurdi. A three-year-old refugee who drowned, leading to his photo being plastered everywhere. 

This book highlights one such experience, of Amir Utu, who finds himself on an island all alone. With the help of Vänna, a girl who decides to keep him safe, he tries to survive in the only way he knows how- by running.Told through two timelines of 'Before' and 'After', we learn how Amir found himself on the island, and what happens next. 

I want to say this book is written beautifully, but no matter how you word it, you can't escape the tough topic of the refugee crisis that is an integral part of the story. I couldn't tear my eyes away, knowing something bad was coming, something bad was definitely going to happen, and it would break me. I feel empty.

I couldn't recommend this book highly enough. READ IT!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an e-arc.
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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 back in their homelands. But miraculously, someone has survived the passage: nine-year-old Amir, a Syrian boy who is soon rescued by Vanna. Vanna is a teenage girl, who, despite being native to the island, experiences her own sense of homelessness in a place and among people she has come to disdain. And though Vanna and Amir are complete strangers, though they don't speak a common language, Vanna is determined to do whatever it takes to save the boy.

There are some books that to me are essential. Like they have such a strong message and are so important. What Strange Paradise is without a shadow of a doubt heartbreaking in a way that it could not affect you. I was also inspired and amazed by the bravery of not just Amir but all of the refugees in the story. I was thankful for the compassion shown by people and I'm incredibly grateful I got to read this book

This is a first for me by the author and one I enjoyed and would read more of their work. The book cover is eye-catching and appealing and would spark my interest if in a bookshop. Thank you very much to the author, publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.
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What Strange Paradise is award-winning and critically acclaimed Canadian investigative journalist El Akkad’s compelling yet heartbreakingly tender novel that tells the story of the international refugee crisis through the experiences of Amir, a Syrian boy who washes up on the shore of a small island. Amir Utu is a 9-year-old boy who flees the hellish violence of civil war in his Syrian motherland in search of safety, ending up initially on Egyptian soil. Alongside his mother, baby stepbrother and stepfather, Younis, the family have swapped all of their worldly possessions to pay the fee demanded by the smugglers for their passage to Egypt. Once there, Amir then manages to seemingly serendipitously and accidentally clamber aboard a repurposed fishing boat heading North from the port of Alexandria towards Europe and The West, after following Younis, and once they reach shore they hope they will be able to successfully claim asylum. However, the decision to board The Calypso, the ramshackle boat bound for the Greek island of Kos may be one they both (live to) regret. As the seafaring adventure turns into a nightmare of massive proportions the vessel overloaded with desperate migrants begins to capsize in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea precipitated by a deadly storm. 

The sea rages and the winds roar and those aboard becoming increasingly exhausted and hungry. People perish and their bodies become lost at sea; part of the omnipresent wave of corpses found washing up on European shorelines over the past decade in particular. Amir is the only survivor in the throng of undocumented migrants initially buoyed by the idea of safety and a better life who put all of their faith in an overladen vessel. When he awakens among the sand dunes scared and alone he is accosted by a swarm of agitated men yelling at him in a foreign language and happens upon a 15-year-old local girl named Vänna Hermes who informs him that soldiers frequently comb the beach looking for unwanted new arrivals. She becomes a much-needed ally in his fight for survival and she not only conceals him from the eagle eyes of the patrolling colonel but feeds and clothes him too. Her mission is to help him avoid detention and keep him safe until another altruist can ferry him to the mainland in two days time. This is a captivating and searingly profound novel that illustrates just how exquisite simple stories told beautifully and packed with heart and soul can be. It is told in chapters that alternate between before - during the treacherous and lengthy voyage - and after - when he meets Vänna.

A riveting, compassionate and visceral tale reflective of the real-life horrors migrants often witness, it was heartwarming to see Amir and Vänna overcoming their language, cultural and religious differences and learning to speak through kind gestures, but on the other hand, we have the cruel and empathy-bankrupt soldiers who want those seeking safer quarters off their soil. Vänna is a friend to Amir in a hostile world. Using lyrical prose, El Akkad captures the plight of those who leave everything behind and sell all their possessions just for a chance to be safe and to have the opportunity to thrive. Within the incisive narrative, there are didactic passages on the causes of oppression, migration and displacement as well as the current refugee crisis, and if you don't feel your soul stirring at the timely subject matter you simply mustn't be human. There is a compelling contrast between humourous and solemn moments, humanity and brutality and you quickly become thoroughly invested in Amir and his story. But rather than focusing on the causes of migration, El Akkad has woven a character-driven action-adventure novel written from Amir’s perspective and gives a feeling and sense of the crisis on a personal rather than a political level and rehumanises discourse on the topic of immigration. This is fiction that doesn’t forget. Highly recommended.
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Images on nightly news, is what came to mind when I read this book. A little boy washed adore alone.
I don’t think we can truly appreciate the fear of someone who has fled from his country to escape danger and hunger.

Omar El Akkad gave us a glimpse through the eyes of a nine year old boy Amir, who escapes with his family from Syria to Egypt and unknowingly ends on a boat that leaves him on an unnamed  island in Greece.

With beautiful writing , and an impactful story, the author raises many questions about the current refugee crisis in the world. About moral issues we face as human beings. Haunting and reflective.
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Beautifully written but devastatingly sad, because you know this is all true.  I found the ending a little odd and I'm not sure what purpose it served, but I decided to ignore it and assume they both escaped.  Although I'd hoped the 'Now' meant what was happening with them after that escape.
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The start of a little boy found motionless on a beach gripped me immediately, it reminded me of the same image which was published in every news outlet around the world a few years ago.

The story develops and follows Amir, a 9-year-old boy on his accidental refugee journey across the sea. While I truly enjoyed the beautiful prose and the first third of the book, to me, the story sort of plummeted somewhere along the line. I am not sure exactly what happened, but I lost my connection to Amir and to everything he experienced. While at the start I felt this was going to be one of the best books I would read this year, I felt disappointed about the lack of emotions that reached me. A nine-year-old on their own on a journey they don't understand, running from people they don't know all without their mother, in a strange country, confronted with a strange language... I just expected MORE emotion, pain, uncertainty.

It is an interesting read, a horrific depiction of something that, unfortunately, happens every single day. A story that most definitely will make you think and stay with you, however, as far as reading goes, it was not one of those un-putdownable books and instead I found myself battling through the last two-thirds of it.
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If like me you remember the horrific images from 2015 of the young Syrian boy who washed up dead on a Turkish beach, you may wonder what drives migrants to risk their lives to reach Europe?  This novel “What Strange Paradise’ aims to explore how the desperate quest for safety in countries that are unwelcoming to migrants has come to pass. It focusses on a young boy Amir who has miraculously survived an ill fated sea voyage.  The story itself is told through alternating chapters ‘Before’ and ‘After’ - Before focusses on how Amir and his family came to be living in Alexandria and how by accident he ends up on a fishing boat full of migrants heading towards Greece.  After is set on an unnamed small Greek Island where a local teenage girl Vanna is determined to help Amir to safety at all costs. I found the Before chapters to be a powerful and devastating insight into the horror of life onboard a rundown ship overloaded with too many passengers fleeing Syria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Lebanon and other countries. The initial camaraderie amongst the passengers soon descends into a survival of the fittest mentality as conditions worsen and they start to realise that they were sold a fake dream.  They gradually lose hope and are filled with despair.  As a reader you realise the outlook is bleak long before they do.  The mix of characters onboard were entirely believable from Mohammed a  cynical young people trafficker in training ,to Maher an idealistic bookworm, to a pregnant woman who endlessly recites a phrase she has learnt in English for when she reaches a country that may not even have that as its mother tongue. All of them have dreams.  What I particularly liked about the Before chapters was that it did not provide a back story for each individual migrant and how they came to be on the boat - in a way that seemed largely irrelevant.  The After chapters did not have the same powerful pull for me; as to be honest Amir reaching the island whilst not exactly a happy ending did mean he had, to a degree reached a place of safety.  The portrayal of the impact  on a small island of a never-ending wave of migrants arriving was well portrayed with the defeated Colonel Kethros and his small company of soldiers ineffectively trying to ‘defend’ the island against what they saw as invaders. It appears that he has lost his humanity, even if locals such as Vanna, Madame El Ward and a hotel housekeeper have not. 
This book is haunting and heartbreaking, such beautiful  and powerful writing.   I haven’t read anything that describes so well the sheer despair that faces migrants in their journey to what they hope, but probably secretly know, isn’t a better destination.  Everybody should read this book, so that the next time you read about ‘another’ migrant boat arriving on these shores you really can see the human stories behind the headlines and statistics.  
I hope to read more of Omar El Akkad’s writing in the future.
Huge thanks to the publisher Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for the opportunity to read the e-arc ahead of publication in return for an honest review.
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I fear there aren’t sufficient words to accurately express how I feel about this story. What Strange Paradise is a novel unlike anything I’ve ever read. It is a beautifully written story with imagery so descriptive it played like a movie in my mind. Through the media, the rhetoric always seems to be boiled down to “refugees” or the “refugee crisis”, or some other label that reduces many different cultures into one category. Omar Al Akkad artfully puts faces, personalities, and backstories to some of the people who risk everything for the chance at a better life. This is one of the best novels I’ve read all year - maybe even longer.  I’m so glad I glad I was able to spend some time with Amir and Vänna. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan publishers for a copy in exchange for a review.
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“What Strange Paradise” looks at the global refugee crisis through the fictional story of 8 year old Amir.. He washes up on the beach of an island, the sole survivor of a sunk ship overcrowded with refugees from many countries. The book tells the story of why he is on the boat and what happens to him on the island. In the “Before” chapters, you learn more about Amir’s family and the journey on the ship. In the “After” chapters, he encounters Vanna, a teenage girl who lives on the island but who feels like she doesn’t belong. They form a partnership of sorts and Vanna does everything she can to help save Amir from over zealous authorities who want to put him in the system rather than care from him and treat him like a human being.

While the style of the book makes it a very easy read, the subject matter is obviously challenging. Even though it is a story largely told through the eyes of a child, it is a difficult one. For instance, the conversations that Amir overhears on the boat show the many varied reasons that brought the passengers to that point and to risk everything to leave their “home” countries. I felt that the message is very much that we are all people and all deserved to be treated as such. I hope that is what comes across to others and that people both in power and not take on board this attitude.

In terms of the way the book is written, I liked the way it flipped between “Before” and “After” as it felt like a more engaging way of telling the story, particularly as the journey on the ship could have been told quite tediously. Yes the tedium would’ve been accurate in the way that the passengers experienced it but it would have been less engrossing as a reader. I also liked the fact that it was told largely from the children’s point of view, but still encompassed adult conversations and didn’t veer away from difficult themes. I think my only criticism of the book comes when the story moved into being told by the adults such as the man in charge of the military on the island who are searching for Amir. I felt his character could’ve been developed a little more as I didn’t feel I could understand his actions, even with the bit of background we are given. Maybe that was deliberate but if we were to be given his viewpoint, I would’ve liked to know more.

But as others have pointed out, this is only a snapshot. And it’s a compelling and powerful one and I wish to thank the author for helping to educate me on this subject.

Thank you, also, to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this book.
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This book is beautifully written that it makes a harrowing subject matter easy to read. I was immediately transported into the world of Amir. 

The book looks at the reality, on an individual level, of refugees and asylum seekers. The main character is Amir, a 9 year old boy who is fleeing Syria with his family and accidentally ends up on a ship which is wrecked on the coast of a Greek island. 

The book uses the characters to explore the many reactions of the people on both sides. The author does not idealise either side, we are shown flawed, broken and desperate people on both sides. People who have to make choices about how they respond to an awful situation. 

The writing is wonderful, the characters realistic and the book will keep me thinking long after I have finished reading. All signs of a brilliant book.
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"Some [...] people, you have to hold their hand and show them how to be human."

These days, mainstream discussion of undocumented migration is often detached and abstract, like talking about the weather. This has reached peak absurd when populist politicians spend time on Dover beach 'looking for migrant boats', and government departments seriously consider installing 'wave machines' in the Channel.

El Akkad's second novel makes us look squarely at the human faces of this modern-day tragedy.

At the heart of the story are Amir and Vänna. Amir is a nine-year old boy who flees the Syrian war with his family and is the only survivor of a boat crossing from Alexandria to some unnamed, probably-Greek island. Vänna is a local teenager growing up in a dysfunctional family. When their paths cross, Vänna goes to great lengths to help and protect Amir. 

In alternating chapters titled 'Before' and 'After', we follow the events that led Amir to the island, and the aftermath of his arrival. 

El Akkad introduces a memorable cast of supporting characters, that represent the whole gamut of positions people adopt with respect to undocumented migration. From those that view it as a threat, to the masses who are a little curious but mainly indifferent, to those who try to help in their own ways. The main cast is vivid. We feel Amir's disorientation, Vänna's determination, the colonel's bitter doggedness. 

The migrants on the boat journey are diverse and complex. We meet the pragmatic smuggler's apprentice, the quiet intellectual, the persecuted revolutionary, the cowardly bureaucrat. Their exchanges offer some of the best dialogue in the book.

The writing is great, despite a few occasions where the prose turns purple. The excellent ending casts a very different light on the book.

Highly recommended.
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American War was one of my favourite books from that year, and What Strange Paradise does not disappoint. The story of Amir, a nine-year old from Homs, Syria who finds himself washed up on a beach in Greece, and of Vanna the local teen who seeks to help. It works in Before and After chapters, telling of how he got there, and what happens after arrival.

An important book of compassion, imagination and hope, yet brutal and honest in it's characters and truth, portraying flawed people from all 'sides' of the refugee situation. A portrayal of the lives of the two main characters, at the same time the novel reflects the broader population and disparate views, for example Colonel Kethros determined pursuit and rationale, yet he remains a character that can be understood. The writing is excellent; simple and precise yet rich and emotive with a wonderfully descriptive use of language; and as with his previous book the story is extremely well put together as a coherent narrative staying strong throughout.
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This is the most beautiful heart wrenching tender novel I have read in a good while 
I read it on NetGalley prior to its publication on 19 August 2021 
One of the most instantly memorable images in the press over the last few years was the image of a small migrant child dead  on the beech after drowning during their desperate attempt to escape to a land of safety 
Migration involving travel on unsafe un seaworthy small boats is the final destination for so many lives 
The book takes the story of one small boy before during and after his journey from Syria via Egypt with the final destination the island of Kos in the Mediterranean 
It is a short but intense book full of lyrical poetic language with some sentences so beautiful that I was forced to stop just to enjoy the language for a short moment longer and wish that I had such words in my soul .
The book creates drama and tension interweaving them with moments of domestic simplicity and family life that bring home the similarity of all people whatever their rave religion  or ethnicity.This could be your child if you were not lucky enough to be born into safety and security.
I had read the Authors previous book American War and loved it but it wasn’t until after finishing the book that I fully read the publishers notes and realised who the author was 
The Booker longlist is published next week I so hope this fabulous book is on the list it surely deserves it 
I highly recommend if you enjoy a fast paced literary novel with a big heart
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I absolutely loved this book. A heart-wrenchingly humane, exquisitely-written tale of our age, it reads in just a few sittings, so eager you will be to know what happens to young Amir. It's a story full of hope which speaks of the most hopeless fates in this cruel world we live in. If more people were capable of the generosity and sheer human empathy Omar El Akkad shows in this novel, things would be so different. An absolute must-read.
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