Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

May 19, 2014

Review – A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Filed under: books of 2014,books read,reviewage — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 10:03 pm

Doctor Clam: this is specifically a recommendation for you.

Sofia Samatar’s wonderful ‘A Stranger in Olondria’ (2013 Small Beer Press) is the story of a naive innocent, Jevick of Tyom, who travels from his isolated backwater island home to the dazzling opulence of the mainland empire of Olondria, armed only with a student’s command of the local language, to trade spices. It’s almost criminal to reduce the book to the plot elements of Jevick’s various adventures, which concern legal strife, hedonistic anarchists and an inconvenient haunting. What sets ‘A Stranger in Olondria’ apart is the richness of its prose and the novel’s preoccupation with the beauty of language itself.

This is a glorious, dazzling book, its endless sumptuous descriptive passages conveying a fascination with language, culture and the transformative effects of communication. A fantastic world with few fantastic elements – though those are of deep significance – ‘A Stranger in Olondria’ is alive with strange alien customs and characters who are at once instantly recognisable and wholly foreign. Jevick’s journey through Olondria passes through phases familiar to any traveller: the dazzling shock of first impressions; the bewildering challenge of comprehending unfamiliar behaviours; the slow process of acclimation to local customs; and finally the return home of the traveller, much changed by his experiences.

On top of that, throw in a few of the standard dangers of travel – becoming sick, running afoul of legal systems beyond your comprehension, becoming involved with cultural movements outside your experience – and one or two problems with a supernatural edge.

Samatar’s powers of description elevate what might be a reasonably straightforward fantastic travelogue into a rich banquet of language, each course more lavish and satisfying than the last. The fantastic elements have their place in the novel alongside the mundane, but no matter where the author directs her gaze the writing is glorious and compelling. ‘A Stranger in Olondria’ is fabulous, simply fabulous.

2 Comments »

  1. Recommendation accepted. Purchased through the wonders of the Interkindlewebz!

    Comment by Dr Clam — May 20, 2014 @ 8:11 pm

  2. I believe that you will like it. I certainly thought so the entire time I was reading it.

    Comment by Lexifab — May 20, 2014 @ 10:20 pm

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