This is Yu’s first novel, but you’d never know it from the surety of her approach, the immensity of what she achieves. She shifts perspectives and doesn’t differentiate narration from dialogue, an effect that quiets voices and lends volume to thoughts ... a tremendous and almost unbearable work of witness. It is devastating and perfect. It neither flinches from the horror of detention nor fetishizes it. Yu never lets us look away from the vicious banality of evil, leaving us to ask why we allow it to thrive, when it would be so much simpler to do good by one another. It hits especially hard now, as Britain considers adopting Australia’s offshore asylum measures even as Australia is finally dismantling them.
... disquieting ... Amid horrific displays of mistreatment, disastrous run-ins with nature, and a sadness that threatens to swallow them whole, the book offers depictions of tenderness and the fierce love a family has for one another ... Yu never lets the reader lose sight of the youthfulness of her protagonist ... Yu captures the playfulness in her young characters, even when they are acting out, practicing their new English swear words, and losing patience with each other ... Yu employs gorgeous imagery ... This is a family in a constant state of urgency, and also a state of waiting. The way they talk to each other reflects this tension: terse speech thick with understated meaning. The parents, Bahar and Omid, share an electrical current that sparks and ripples between them in the silences.
Devastating descriptions breathe life into Nauru and its unwilling inhabitants ... Loss after loss piles on the family’s doorstep, pushing it to the breaking point. The final chapter includes enough hope to turn tears of despair into tears of happiness, its developments a relief and a blessing ... a masterful and poetic novel about finding hope and joy in the most dire circumstances.
Yu’s debut is rooted in Firuzeh’s fervent desire for stability and in her mother’s rich emotional center. Yu occasionally dives into a peripheral character’s perspective—the English tutor teaching Atay and Abay, a guard working at the refugee camp—giving a grounding vividness to the story of the Daizangi family’s quest for home that is both vast and intensely intimate. Yu’s writing is poetic, the lines of her dialogue strumming into one another, mirroring the way that Firuzeh’s stories begin to blend reality and folklore—as Firuzeh crafts tales to make sense of her reality, and as the incomprehensible tragedies around her morph into imaginary friends that Firuzeh and Nour can’t seem to shake. On Fragile Waves is a lyrical fabulist novel that will enchant readers of both literary fiction and fantasy.
... an evocative and heart-lacerating debut novel ... 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 ... Essential fiction to understand our world; Yu will draw in new fans while continuing to intrigue those who have read her for years.
E. Lily Yu begins her poetic debut novel, On Fragile Waves, tracking a family’s migration from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Indonesia to Nauru, a small island country northeast of Australia. There, they become quarantined in a refugee tent camp, left to wait with faint hope that they might be granted permission to settle in nearby Australia. The fictional journey juxtaposes the opposing poles of human emotion: doubt and faith, fear and comfort, hope and despair. The family travels endless days filled with dread and numbing cultural indifference from others. The horrific events portrayed are made endurable by the author’s skillful use of characterization and poetic imagery ... The reader [...] becomes captive to the majesty of well-fashioned prose ... The author’s precise prose creates an immediacy of presence, trundling the reader along the immigrants’ desperate journey uphill and down as the four family members, harassed by dire circumstances and insurmountable uncertainty, fall prey to petty bickering and understandable stress. The reader feels every bump in the road ... E. Lily Yu is an author to watch. On Fragile Waves foreshadows an innovative new direction in storytelling. In startling language, she combines dreams, myth, poetry, and drama to tell the contemporary saga of one small girl’s story of migration. The story is not soon forgotten.
On Fragile Waves is a gorgeously written, heartbreaking account of a family's hopes and terrors ... the major achievement so far of Yu's restless fascination with literary voices and forms ... it's a meticulously fashioned novel and, despite the occasional fragmentation of the narrative, the final effect is nearly seamless. But to describe On Fragile Waves in such purely literary terms is a disservice to its deeply humane, suspenseful, and harrowing story ... On Fragile Waves is densely inventive enough to leave us with the feeling that we've been through some sort of epic.
Yu’s outstanding debut opens with an enticing work of visual poetry that sets the stage for a story built of stories about the hopes of a family searching for a place where they can feel safe ... Firuzeh fills even the tensest moments of their journey with fantastical stories of what their lives will be once they’ve reached Australia ... Yu showcases the power of folklore and the pain of displacement. This is a knockout.