Headline, August 02 2021/ ''' '' PREJUDICE WORLD *PARADISE '' '''


 *PARADISE '' '''

A MASTERPIECE : ''WHAT STRANGE PARADISE''  BY Omar EI Ekkad should turn and blossom as a must read by every student in the world and mankind all, in general.

Most devastating is EI Akkad's indictment of indifference, Vanna and Amir find the world hostile, unfair and callous. At one point they walk along a tourist beach where other children ''scurry around, building sand castles and playing tag.''

The islanders dismiss the migrants as ''mosquitoes'' : ''These people, they don't think, they don't plan.'' But the migrants also struggle to find compassion, especially as storms toss the boat and the journey frays their nerves. ''What, better the fish should keep it?'' one man asks as he takes the sock off an old man who has died.

BOTH THE MIGRANTS ON THE BOAT AND the people on the island talk and complain and wonder about the ''other.'' EI Akkad cleverly shuffles between the reflections, prejudices and back stories of the two groups, effectively effacing assumptions of superiority and inferiority, good and bad.

IN HIS FIRST NOVEL, ''AMERICAN WAR,'' OMAR EL AKKAD upended the world order with a long-running civil war in  a future America, precise describing the violence and miseries he had witnessed as a reporter covering Afghanistan, Guantanamo and the Arab Spring for The Globe and Mail in Canada.

In his novel, ''What Strange Paradise,'' he draws this dystopia even closer to reality [and Western zones], setting his narrative to actual events : the wars and revolutions of the Middle East and the migrant crisis that followed. It's a similarly grand canvas of geopolitics, nativism and climate change, but this time, instead of unfurling a sweeping multigenerational epic, AL Akkad keeps his plot and focus tight.

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.

The story begins with a shipwreck off a Greek island and the haunting, familiar images of bodies washed up on a beach. Among them is Amir, a 9-year-old- Syrian boy, apparently the only survivor. He flutters his eyelids awake and instinctively runs away from the uniforms that have arrived to clean up the scene.

At a nearby villa, he is hidden by a 15-year-old girl called Vanna, the granddaughter of Nordic transplants whose dreams of running a seaside guesthouse have been ruined by the Greek economic crisis.

Vanna and Amir do not understand each other's language , but they are both marooned and alone, the good and innocent children of this fairy tale. It's no surprise when Vanna, who feels alienated from both the island and her difficult parents, helps Amir avoid detention and tries to get a ferryman who can take him to safety to the mainland.

Chapters alternate between ''Before,'' the story of Amir's flight with his family from Syria and his journey as an accidental stowaway on a cramped and overloaded migrant boat across the Mediterranean, and ''After,'' which follows Vaana and Amir as they're chased at every turn by the single-minded, one-legged Colonel Kethros and his soldiers.

These are twinned odysseys of obstacles and hardships, serendipities and the kindness of strangers, with characters as complicated as the human condition itself. The chapters swing to and from like a pendulum between refugee and native, outsider and guest, those in distress and those on holiday.

The ''two opposing scripts come alive on one shared stage'' reflecting each other like mirrors and echoes.

Mohamed, an enforcer on Amir's boat who broadcasts his contempt for migrants' as menacingly as he wields his gun, is later shown to be as frightened and angry as Colonel Kethros, nursing his own disillusions and PTSD.

Wisdom abounds, but as stark observation rather than comforting homily or advice. ''There's no such thing as conflict. There's only scarcity, there's only need,'' Amir's father says before he disappears into a Syrian prison.

''One should try and believe in things,'' says an optimistic English literature student from Gaza, ''even if they let you down afterward.'' Mohammed delivers us all a harsh reality check when he tells his passengers, ''The two kinds of people in this world aren't good and bad - they're engines and fuel.'' One will always use up the other.

EI Akkad must have begun ''What Strange Paradise'' before Covid reintroduced us to our own fragility and hubris, but it reads as a parable for our times. ''We're all selfish and stupid,'' Amir's uncle says. '' We're all cowards,'' admits Colonel Kethros. In a moment of drowning, in that liminal space between life and death, Amir suddenly understands everything :

All our love and avarice and hopes and failings are unbound in a passage of such beautiful writing that I would cite it here in its entirety if I didn't want people to have the joy of reading it fresh on the page.

For Vanna, having such a revelation herself, ''the bridge turns to sky, the ground to air.'' EI Akkad wants to turn the reader upside down, too, to invert notions of liberal sanctimony and sacred individualism.

This extraordinary book carries a message, not of a trite and cliched hope, but of a greater idea that, ultimately, there are no special distinctions among us, that in fact we are all very much in the same boat.

The Sadness of this Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks review author Wendell Stevenson, a journalist and a novelist; she is a 2021 Guggenheim fellowship recipient.

With respectful dedication to the People and Leaders of Greece, Students, Professors and Teachers and then the world. See Ya all prepare and register for Great Global Elections on The World Students Society : wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter - !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011:

Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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