Books

What Strange Paradise review: A nine-year-old refugee's 'upturned fairytale'

A small boy is the sole survivor of a boat tragedy at sea when the refugees he is travelling with are lost. Omar El Akkad recounts his terrifying journey to the west, and the attitudes that have shaped his life ever since

A refugee boat

Amir was the sole survivor of a boat disaster Image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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. 

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad
What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad is out now in paperback (Pan Macmillan, £8.99)

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. 

You can buy What Strange Paradise from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Top 5 books on boxing, chosen by commentator Andy Clarke
Books

Top 5 books on boxing, chosen by commentator Andy Clarke

Parasol Against the Axe by Helen Oyeyemi review – electrifying, experimental writing
Books

Parasol Against the Axe by Helen Oyeyemi review – electrifying, experimental writing

The Hearing Test by Eliza Barry Callahan review – a droll insight into a year of loss
Books

The Hearing Test by Eliza Barry Callahan review – a droll insight into a year of loss

Top 5 books about the British seaside, chosen by crime writer William Shaw
Books

Top 5 books about the British seaside, chosen by crime writer William Shaw

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know