• What Strange Paradise

  • A Novel
  • By: Omar El Akkad
  • Narrated by: Dion Graham
  • Length: 6 hrs and 37 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (88 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEARFrom the widely acclaimed, bestselling author of American War—a beautifully written, unrelentingly dramatic, and profoundly moving novel that looks at the global refugee crisis through the eyes of a child.

"Told from the point of view of two children, on the ground and at sea, the story so astutely unpacks the us-versus-them dynamics of our divided world that it deserves to be an instant classic." —The New York Times Book Review

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 Vänna. Vänna 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 Vänna and Amir are complete strangers, though they don’t speak a common language, Vänna is determined to do whatever it takes to save the boy.

In alternating chapters, we learn about Amir’s life and how he came to be on the boat, and we follow him and the girl as they make their way toward safety. 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.

©2021 Omar El Akkad (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST, NPR, BuzzFeed • Winner of the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize • Finalist for the 2022 Aspen Words Literary Prize • Finalist for the 2022 Oregon Book Award

“Extraordinary . . . Told from the point of view of two children, on the ground and at sea, the story so astutely unpacks the us-versus-them dynamics of our divided world that it deserves to be an instant classic. I haven’t loved a book this much in a long time.” —Wendell Steavenson, The New York Times Book Review

“Riveting . . . Nothing I’ve read before has given me such a visceral sense of the grisly predicament confronted by millions of people expelled from their homes by conflict and climate change. Though What Strange Paradise celebrates a few radical acts of compassion, it does so only by placing those moments of moral courage against a vast ocean of cruelty.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Hope and kindness light the story in unexpected ways . . . El Akkad's precise prose allows him to inject heartfelt observations throughout the novel . . . Perhaps El Akkad's biggest accomplishment with What Strange Paradise is that it manages to push past political talking points and shocking statistics to rehumanize the discussion about migration on a global scale, and it does so with enough heart to be memorable.” —Gabino Iglesias, NPR

What listeners say about What Strange Paradise

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Absolutely terrific.

I bought this on a whim. Seems like a topical story. A boatload of desperate refugees shipwrecks off a Greek Island and only one 9 year old boy survives. It is really a story about the connection we all have, even with those who come from a different land and don't speak our language. It was inspiring. You will feel better for listening to this story.

1 person found this helpful

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Slow as molasses, narrator doesn’t help

I wanted to like this book, but it’s not even close to being as good as American War. It is slow, never pays off, and doesn’t help that you never know exactly where it’s taking place.

The way the narrator constantly pauses mid-sentence makes the whole audiobook even more difficult to finish than it already was.

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excellent read

A commentary on the modern immigrant experience revealed in a plot driven clever way. not a polemic.

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Upside down fairy tale

El Akkad wanted to make an impact on his readers minds and hearts beyond what the daily headlines could accomplish, so easily read and then forgotten.
His story mesmerizes us fills us with hope about the fate of this one young immigrant boy.
In his quiet Way El Akkad screams the truth and tragedy of immigrants.
You won't forget Amir.

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Excellent read except...

The ending detracted from the book. Not sure what the author's purpose was with this choice. I know some stories can end too neat & tidy, living happily ever after and so on. I felt confused & annoyed by it.

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Depressing!

Beautiful descriptive prose but so depressing! Swoops into a rushed- feeling ending. Glimpses of the braver, better aspects of humanity. Overall, just sad.