peteg's blog - noise - books - 2021 08 08 OmarElAkkad WhatStrangeParadise

Omar El Akkad: What Strange Paradise.

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Kindle. The second novel from this Canadian journalist/author (the first being American War) and again well-marketed. I found it difficult to get past the first few chapters with their transparent attempts at creating a sense of curiosity about a crash landing on a beach via selective withholding. After these he settled into a standard two-track where one took us back to Syria and the other remained on Kos (a Greek island, second-best loved by the tourists). We spend a bit of time in Alexandria along the way. The trip on the boat with a diversity of characters is a bit harrowing and the most powerful piece of writing; the foreshadowing is particularly effective here. Every so often I found his punchlines quite affecting, despite it all being quite familiar from the experiences of the Vietnamese diaspora so long ago. Overall it's better than his first effort.

Goodreads loved it. Wendell Steavenson. Perhaps it is the taking of a tight vantage of children that made the improvement. Egyptian (?) people smuggler Mohamed did have his moments. Army Colonel Kethros is more a vehicle for making such observations as:

His father once told him that every man is nothing more or less than the demands he makes of the world, and that the more a man demands of the world, the bigger the magnitude of his success or failure in life. This, his father said, is what matters — the size of the asking. And this is what the colonel thinks of as he studies Nicholas's darting eyes, studies the weight of the lie on him; this is what the word weakness can never properly describe — the absolute poverty of the boy's asking, the willingness with which he seems ready to shuffle meekly through the world, making not a single demand. Weakness Kethros can tolerate — this other thing, he can't.