Title: A Stranger in Olondria
Author: Sofia Samatar
Published by: Small Beer Press
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Where I got the book: Public Library
Jevick, son of a pepper merchant, grew up on the Island of Tyom, listening to stories of Olondria, a distant land across the ocean that prizes books and learning, things that are absent from his home. After the death of his father, Jiveck takes over the business and has a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of travelling to Olondria on a business trip. And although Olondria and the capital city of Bain is everything Jevick has ever dreamed about, his life is pulled off course as he becomes haunted by the ghost of a young woman, Jissavet, whom he met on the sea voyage.
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar is an immersive book with vivid prose. I swear it’s one of the few books I’ve read where I could actually imagine myself on the same streets as the protagonist, see the vivid colours of the clothing and smell the scent of spices in the air.
This is very much a low fantasy story. There’s no villain trying to take over the world, no epic magic battles, or crumbling societies. Just a young man trying to find his place in life and ends up caught up in things beyond his control as Jissavet haunts his dreams each night and two religious cults struggle for power.
It’s also a book about books, which I’m always a fan of. Jevick hungers for knowledge and the beauty of literature, choosing to spend his time and money on books rather than business. And in the end it is this love of literature that saves him.
This book is not a quick read though. It took me like two months to finish and it’s only 300 pages. The only reason it’s not a 5 star read for me because not a lot happens for quite a bit and there’s some spots where it drags. But the writing is so, so beautiful. And somewhere along the line it transforms from a ghost story about books to a tragic and bittersweet love story. I’m not ashamed to admit I was sobbing by the end.
A Stranger in Olondria is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read and I’m very much looking forward to reading more from Sofia Samatar. I’d like to leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book. When I read this I cried and had to put the book down. Sofia Samatar has written such a beautiful, moving book where I can taste every word on the page and feel every heartprick as it moves me.
“Then the silence comes, like the absence of sound at the end of the world. You look up. It’s a room in an old house. Or perhaps it’s a seat in a garden, or even a square; perhaps you’ve been reading outside and you suddenly see the carriages going by. Life comes back, the shadows of leaves. Someone comes to ask what you will have for dinner, or two small boys run past you, wildly shouting; or else it’s merely a breeze blowing a curtain, the white unfurling into a room, brushing the papers on a desk. It’s the sound of the world. But to you, the reader, it is only silence, untenanted and desolate. This is the grief that comes when we are abandoned by the angels: silence, in every direction, irrevocable.”