On Fragile Waves

Erewhon. Feb. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9781645660095. $25.95. F
DEBUT Yu follows up her sf and fantasy short fiction, including the Hugo–, Locus-, and Nebula-nominated and Astounding Award–winning “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees,” with an evocative and heart-lacerating debut novel. Firuzeh and her brother Nour flee war-torn Kabul with their parents, who tell them fairy tales to ease the journey through Pakistan and Indonesia to Nauru Island, their gateway to Australia. The journey is hard, their stay in Nauru’s immigration detention camp harder, and even as the family makes it to Australia, they are not sure whether they will be allowed to stay. As she and Nour adjust to a life that may never be theirs, Firuzeh is helped along by some hardheaded advice from a drowned girl named Nasima, a magic realist touch that (with the interwoven fairy tales) serves to amplify a situation both harsh and unimaginable—can people really be made to suffer this way and for naught? While Yu’s exactingly detailed story is told in the third person, the voices of the children predominate, which makes this wrenching portrait of the immigrant experience especially affecting.
VERDICT Essential fiction to understand our world; Yu will draw in new fans while continuing to intrigue those who have read her for years.
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