105. A STRANGER IN OLONDRIA, BY SOFIA SAMATAR
Recommended to me by an old friend, who I hadn’t seen in a long time.
Synopsis: Jevick’s father decides to hire an Olondrian tutor for him. Olondria is a faraway land, much different from Jevick’s birthplace, and seems like a fairy tale to him. When his father dies, Jevick gets an opportunity to visit this land, where he becomes haunted by the spirit of a girl and entangles himself in a political revolution.
Overall enjoyment: It’s a hard decision, to be honest. It was very poetic, and had interesting bits, but, for the most part, I didn’t really enjoy reading it. Maybe if, instead of telling me this is a novel, somebody had described this book as a short story and poem collection with a very thin thread to tie them up, I would probably have enjoyed it a lot more; however, as beautifully written as it was, I just can’t ignore the fact that it was haphazard and hurried in everything but its language, and I was very disappointed. Plus, it was incredibly forgettable; I literally just finished reading it, and I already can’t remember the names of most characters… Or, to be quite honest, what happens in most of the book.
Plot: If the story I described on the synopsis seems a bit strange, then it reflects this book’s plot well. It is more like a travelogue, there is no logic to whatever happens. Of course, logic isn’t always needed in fiction, but I’m talking about internal logic, and you would be very hard pressed to find an interesting plot that doesn’t follow it. The main story, Jevick’s, feels like a simple gimmick to connect the little short stories and poems together, and as such, whatever happens to Jevick is whatever is needed for him to meet a particular person who will tell him the tale (and the book will promptly abandon Jevick while this tale goes), or sing him a song, or recite a poem, or whatever. Those snippets are much more interesting and well rounded than the main story.
Characters: They’re not badly written at all, but they range from boring to dislikable. Jevick is a walking yawn (his only reason for existing is so people can tell him their life stories); the ghost girl (can’t remember her name, can’t be bothered to look it up) is insufferable, I wanted to slap her most of the time.
World/setting: You can tell she put a lot of work in this. The world she created was very beautiful, amazingly described, very cohesive. I’d even go as far as to say that it was too much: there was too much world-building and not enough story and content to occupy it. I have the impression that, while she was imagining this world, she came up with folklore and myths and some nice stories for the background; and she liked them so much she decided to force those stories into the book, whether they fit or not.
Writing style: It was very beautiful, quite poetic. That can be a valuable asset, but, to me, flowery language, no matter how beautiful, never makes up for lack of content and structure.
Representation: The people from Jevick’s homeland (can’t remember what it’s called) are all dark skinned.
Political correctness: The short stories inside were very interesting, but the main story is so empty and disconnected it’s hardly worth talking about.
Up next: My New American Life, by Francine Prose