***Winner of the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize***
***Longlisted for the 2022 Aspen Words Literary Prize***
"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 Strange Paradise
is] simple in the way that novels like The Stranger
or Of Mice and Men
are: brief, taut, cooly delivered but with seas of emotion swirling underneath."
–Mark Athitakis, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"In his acclaimed bestselling debut, American War
, El Akkad demonstrated his ability to capture complex political events and place them on a personal scale. With his new novel, What Strange Paradise
, he has done it again, this time asking questions about the global refugee crisis."
–The Millions, "Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2021 Book Preview"
"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
"Impassioned and richly detailed, What Strange Paradise
moves like a thriller and punches like a work of art. With this haunting story of refugees, high seas, sharks and Samaritans, Omar El Akkad continues on his impressive exploration of our contemporary world."
–Aravind Adiga, author of The White Tiger and Amnesty
"Great literature about migration should rehumanize the discourse surrounding it. What Strange Paradise
does a fantastic job of that. Touching, gritty, and told in a unique voice that places childhood at the center of the discussion, this is a tender, haunting work about refugees everyone should read." –NPR, "July Book-Ahead: What We're Excited to Read Next Month"
"Searing, lyrical . . . A beguiling parable of dispossessed peoples and the burning desire for home."
–Oprah Daily, "18 of the Best Books to Pick Up This July"
"Riveting . . . an intimate action-adventure story that's laced with hope and compassion, emotions with the power to transcend borders and worldly disputes."
– G. Robert Frazier, BookPage
"El Akkad. . . expertly contrasts the well-paced story of Amir's predicament with the ill-fated voyage that brought him to Greece. The ragtag bunch of strangers on the boat forms an incredibly well-drawn portrait of humanity as everyone bonds together initially, even with dollops of humor thrown in . . . A suspenseful and heartbreaking painting of the refugee crisis as experienced by two children caught in the crosshairs." –Booklist, starred
"El Akkad's compelling, poetic prose captures the precarity and desperation of people pushed to the brink . . . A compassionate snapshot of one Syrian refugee's struggle to plot a course for home."