Omar El Akkad with Jeff VanderMeer
Novelist Omar El Akkad, now living south of here in Portland, but for many years an award-winning international journalist living and working out of Toronto, blew readers away a few years ago with his eerily prescient first novel, American War. He gave a moving reading from that at Elliott Bay. We anticipate similar engagement for readers attending this - and reading - his haunting, beautifully written new novel, What Strange Paradise (Knopf). There is an overwhelmed boat filled with refugees fleeing homelands such as Syria, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Palestine, a boat which, in time, capsizes. There is a survivor, a young boy, and his attempts to elude would-be captors, aided by a young girl living on the island he has washed ashore upon. These are the bare bones of what Omar El Akkad does with extraordinary skill, empathy, compassion.
“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.
“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.
With Omar El Akkad in conversation this evening will be the wonderful writer Jeff VanDerMeer, who recently did an evening such as this for Elliott Bay readers with his own newest novel, Hummingbird Salamander. A generous supporter of other writers and many good causes, he and Omar El Akkad have some interesting shared literary ‘history’ of a good sort, which will no doubt come out this evening.