“…An instant classic.” – The New York Times
WINNER OF THE 2021 GILLER PRIZE
FINALIST FOR THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST BOOK AWARD
FINALIST FOR THE ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE
CHOSEN AS A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST, NPR, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, AND OTHERS
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, all of them desperate to escape untenable lives back in their homelands. But miraculously, someone has survived the passage: nine-year-old Amir. He is soon rescued by Vänna, a teenage girl who, despite being native to the island, experiences her own sense of homelessness. Though Vänna and Amir are complete strangers, Vänna is determined to do whatever it takes to save the boy.
What Strange Paradise is the story of two children finding their way through a hostile world. But it is also a story of empathy and indifference, of hope and despair—and about the way each of those things can blind us to reality.
“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
“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
“What an imaginative, touching, and necessary novel Omar El Akkad has brought to us. It reminds us of the human stories behind headlines and statistics, and gives us one of the most memorable children characters, whose story adds urgency and poignancy to that ‘awfully big adventure’ stated by Peter Pan.”
—Yiyun Li, author of Must I Go