In the midst of a terrorist attack on a bookstore, one of the attackers, a young woman, has a sudden premonition that something is wrong, changing the course of history. Two years later, this unnamed woman invites a famous writer to visit her in the criminal psychiatric clinic where she’s living. She then shares with him an incredible story―she is a visitor from an alternate future.
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.