Firuzeh and her brother Nour are children of fire, born in an Afghanistan fractured by war. When their parents, their Atay and Abay, decide to leave, they spin fairy tales of their destination, the mythical land and opportunities of Australia.
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.