Wednesday, February 16, 2022

What Strange Paradise

What Strange ParadiseWhat Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautifully penned, suspenseful story of a Syrian boy landing on a Greek island after a nightmare trip from Alexandria, jammed into a decrepit fishing boat. He meets a local girl named Vänna Hermes, who rescues the boy from pursuing soldiers. The point of view moves to the colonel who "ignores the hustler who walks the beach with a cigarette-girl tray hanging over his chest, selling watered-down sunscreen and sunflower seeds in violation of local ordinance. He simply stares out at the sea, lets it blur and double in his vision until it swallows the land and the sky, until there is nothing else. This arpeggio spring. April staircasing away. It used to feel smoother, the ending of winter, the island in rebirth." Those Greek tourist beaches are momentarily closed while men in hazmat suits clean up the dead and their debris after the sinking of the overloaded fishing boat offshore. The only survivor appears to be a nine-year-old boy. The book flies along with its alternating stories on board the boat and on the island with regard for these helpless fleeing children until its surprise ending. The climax troubled me, but what alternative could have contained this story?
As Ron Charles reviews this title in the Washington Post: " 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."

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Wednesday, February 9, 2022

White on White

White on WhiteWhite on White by Aysegül Savas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An unnamed narrator in an anonymous city is a graduate student researching nudity in medieval sculptures for her thesis. She moves into an apartment and her older landlady, an artist married to an art historian, comes to town and moves into her studio upstairs. She assertively befriends the student with gifts, treats and conversation. The writing is restrained and beautiful representing the measured interest and elegant character of the protagonists. But the intensity of the relationship increases lending an air of suspense to a poetic journey through art and distress. I warmed to the book as I read.

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