Lately, novels from Sweden have sunk into deep noir...But the English debut from Johannes Anyuru offers more, a double helping of nasty business ... Overall, the novel sets up a classic conceit, hate for hate, and both extremes erupt with bruising force ... This potent structure, a therapeutic bridge between two infernos, feels like the work of a novelist hitting his stride. Anyuru turned 40 this year, and though he has published earlier fiction and poetry, as well as working in theater and radio, this book has been a breakthrough. It has won a major Swedish award, and there’s a movie in the works. If there’s any justice, some of this success will cross the Atlantic. It’s a rare author who has such sensitivity with explosive materials ... The connection between the girl’s bad dream and the writer’s actual experience feels belabored at times, and it isn’t the only misstep. The role of Annika’s parents in an unexpected tragedy goes conspicuously undeveloped. By and large, though, Saskia Vogel’s translation achieves a difficult balance, nimble yet compassionate. She captures Annika’s mash-up of Western slang and Koranic Arabic, its humor often a relief, and also the more complex contemplations of the writer, poetic and touching when he considers his daughter ... I came away thinking of the book as an attempt to forge a more humane means of expression, one that could surmount all our fears and failures.
Frighteningly, Anyuru uses the world we’re pretty familiar with, where migrants escaping death are treated as though they’re enemies of the people living safely on the shores where they land ... a terror-fueled rollercoaster of a book, and it wrestles with the rampant fear that often flourishes alongside nationalism. The novel conjures the abandonment of humanity at places such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq — the way torture breaks a person down to mindlessness, to their raw and searing bodies — and then it takes it a step further ... In a novel that’s propulsive and compulsively readable in a multitude of ways, one of the most luscious elements is the lyrical union between Anyuru and his translator, Saskia Vogel ... the prose is buoyant and exact, wistful and hard-hitting ... Anyuru has done something impressive and subversive with this novel: he has created a thriller for a new era of contemporary terror and radicalism, a book that reflects on what it means to live within the constructed abstraction of nationality and to suffer because of it, to have your life put in jeopardy based on popular fear and politics ... a chilling book that wrestles with what might come after a person has been stripped of all hope and opportunity, already exhausted from the endless escape associated with exile, and stuck in an ambitiously constructed dream that has turned into a nightmare.
Johannes Anyuru’s stunning They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears is a rare, powerful multiverse novel that reflects the best and worst of human potential ... Each one of the novel’s heartbreaking truths and possibilities flourishes in the gap between what might have been heard as a disavowal of faith and the mother’s last strained utterance of the shahada ... with its final revelation that is as dismaying as it is triumphant, is gorgeous, unforgettable speculative fiction.
Anyuru doesn’t shy away from complicated issues—instead, he utilizes a complex story structure to take us right to the core of them ... Throughout the book, I often find myself confused as to which narrator is speaking; sometimes it takes a few sentences into a new chapter before I realize that the perspective has switched. Considering Anyuru’s close attention to detail in every other aspect of the narration, I’m inclined to think that this hint of a merging between the two characters is intentional ... Anyuru applies a poet’s sense for the weight of each word as he builds the story ... There are succinct, sometimes terse sentences where each word matters, along with swift jumps between focuses, thoughts, perspectives, or timelines ... the confusion is unsettling in multiple ways. It’s one thing to read a dystopia, but another to see how well it fits with our own present ... This is an intricately woven story, written with a wonderfully poetic sense of language ... These are scary times, and Anyuru helps us think about that.
Religion deeply informs Anyuru’s third and latest novel, which draws equal inspiration from quantum theory and Qur’anic hadiths. Artfully translated by Saskia Vogel ... an ingeniously plotted work of what could be called theological science fiction ... Anyuru’s novel applies the observer effect to a moral quandary. Just as measuring a quantum phenomenon can change it, so too can the effort to predict future violence help usher it into being. This truism of an age when jihadist terror fuels nativist bigotry and preemptive wars swell the ranks of millenarian caliphates is also the structuring irony of Anyuru’s narrative ... Anyuru’s dystopia persuades because it is inextricable from the anxieties of his Muslim characters in contemporary Sweden, from disaffected youths who sell hash and flirt with radicalism to imams preaching forbearance in cramped basement mosques. The grammar of their faith, from its rituals of prayer to its reassurances of eternity, offers a means of orientation beyond precarious circumstances—as well as a counterpoint to the nativist equation of birthplace and belonging.
Anyuru turns sturm und drang into elegant speculative fiction ... Vogel translated it into English, maintaining Anyuru’s poetic approach, infusing despair with hopefulness ... Anyuru luminously combines the motifs of light and moths as they flit through his pages ... Anyuru narrates a horrific story in graceful prose. He’s captured the zeitgeist in this Swedish saga, creating a literary outlet for global mourning strengthened by his experience as a poet, playwright, novelist, and essayist ... This scenario feels more contemporary than futuristic, layered so subtly that the full impact doesn’t hit until several days after finishing the book ... Anyuru plants hope in They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears. And we need it.
As speculative fiction, They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears is only intermittently compelling. Anyuru’s rationale for the captured woman’s time travel is vague, and relies on a dimly realized subplot about neurological experimentation and torture in a Jordanian 'black site.' The notion that the political destiny of Sweden is changed by the bookstore attack is never convincingly sold ... However, the novel has a powerful emotional core...The feeling of loss and betrayal is palpable ... Anyuru’s ability to imagine a thread connecting present-day exclusion to future atrocities makes this more than a genre entertainment. He has written a 'state of the nation' novel for a country that seems to be losing faith in the civic values for which it is internationally admired.
Anyuru underscores the reality that even parallel worlds involve global connections ... if I can't remember all the language Anyuru uses for how time bends in this speculative world, that's because the speculative aspect is the least compelling part of the novel. Which isn't to say it's poorly done, or unimportant, but that the idea of undoing violence founders when confronted with the specter of hatred ... Each of [Anyuru's] characters feels real, whether experiencing friendship and delight or torture and death ... does its job best in speculating about how humans stuck in chronological time can learn from our own mistakes.
Authors who create confused characters often confuse readers. Anyuru, though, being an author in full control of a powerful talent, can put readers in a state of mind similar to that of his confused characters while offering an engaging challenge ... Although in the skilled hands of Anyuru readers can revel in being at-sea along with his confused characters, whose narratives are told by Anyuru in third person, a brief untangling of some major mileposts may be of help ... From the reader's point of view, it is at times unclear where the authorial assertion of a narrative puzzle-piece ends and a character's memory, perhaps faulty, begins; nor is it always clear where a character stands vis-à-vis the truth ... Apart from the reader's enjoyment of completing the plot puzzle, Anyuru's novel explores a vicious cycle critical to us all; a government, anticipating threats from members of a particular segment of the population who have done no wrong, over-reacts in a way that causes such threats to blossom into actual attacks ... This novel blends topical societal issues with a speculative literary trope made fresh by being viewed through a powerful psychological lens. Anyuru, a poet as well as playwright and novelist, provides an engaging literary experience, a Möbius strip-like ride-in-time couched in finely-polished language ... an excellent idiomatic translation.
... while the first 30 pages are a grueling, minute-by-minute account of the attack, the rest of the novel becomes something strangely slow, contemplative and peaceful ... turns a novel about terrorism, time travel and alternative realities into something even stranger than those things: a philosophical meditation on hope.
... Anyuru juxtaposes science fictional elements with an unflinching willingness to deal with extremism and sensitive topics ... some of the specific risks Anyuru takes in the telling of this story pay off dramatically. It can be frustrating to write about a novel where the central characters are largely unnamed, but with the novel’s focus on identity, it makes perfect sense ... Anyuru doesn’t shy away from asking big questions in this novel, and the result is a searing meditation on some of today’s most unnerving subjects.
The depth of Anyuru’s work grows, revealing shocking connections between the young woman and the author interviewing her. In gorgeous prose, Anyuru’s potent story addresses today’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and the grim future it could create.