New in paperback is What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad, which tells the story of another nine-year-old asylum seeker, Syrian Amir, the sole survivor of a desperate and disastrous boat journey. Elegantly wrought details of landscapes, wild nature, flora and fauna give the early part of the book a feeling of realism, almost like documentary drama. The chapters sway alternately from ‘before’ to ‘after’ Amir washes to safety, like the tides of the sea which deliver him.
As the story progresses it takes on an almost hyperreal persona; increasingly it reads like a myth, or “upturned fairytale”, as Akkad describes the random collection of belongings that wash up alongside the dead bodies on the beach. The ending comes with one hell of a thump, but long before that, it’s clear that Akkad’s target is the hypocritical west, which chooses to regard overseas conflicts in simple binary terms, wears its compassion for victims like a badge, but offers little help that might require self-sacrifice.
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