Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands

Interlink. Dec. 2020. 224p. pap. $15. ISBN 9781623718664.
Gr 7 Up–“Every trip I’ve taken, something terrible has happened,” newly orphaned protagonist Quamar says, neatly defining her story. In this picaresque novel reminiscent of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, each chapter follows Quamar on a self-contained adventure. Throughout her journeys, she is the village rebel, a slave who befriends a princess, a pilgrim and a pirate, a scholar and a healer, a bookshop owner searching for love and a shipwrecked mother searching for her family. This book has a folktale quality. Strangers are kind or easily won over by either Quamar’s storytelling or healing abilities. Violence is inevitable and external, ejecting Quamar from safety and propelling her into new adventures. Quamar’s internal development isn’t as important as her access to new lands and new people. The exciting plot doesn’t leave much space for nostalgia, and Quamar moves forward with little chance of ever reuniting with those she leaves behind. She traverses recognizable geography, from Palestine to Tangier to Madras, in a folkloric world that blends historical periods. In its Arabic version, this book won the 2014 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature. English-language readers need more multicultural literature that isn’t filtered through the lens of immigration, acculturation, Americanization, and this book delivers.
VERDICT This nuanced work steeped in Islamic culture fills a gap in English-language literature. Readers who are unfamiliar with Arabic fiction will find their perspectives broadened.

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