Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Trans-Siberian Express Refugee Story

Under the Almond Tree, Laura McVeigh
Under the Almond Tree tells the story of one refugee family fleeing conflict and war in Afghanistan in the 1990s as they travel towards freedom and safety.  Published by Hachette's Two Roads imprint.  Two Roads publishes strong, narrative-led stories of amazing lives.
  • When I first read over the list of character names I thought I was going to have a difficult time keeping tabs on all the players.  It was a pleasant surprise to discover the opposite -- in fact -- I could have coped without the name list.  Similarly, local terminology and place names weren't overwhelming.
  • A map is also among the introductory pages, and I think this is an excellent inclusion (and nice design).
  • It took me a chapter to adjust to McVeigh's long, complex sentences (half-paragraphs, often).  Her language is rich enough that there are super-low frequency words now and then, but not so rich it made for slow reading.  
  • This story employs bold imagery and a narrative device that divides fan and foe among readers.  I was a fan.  I thought it was executed well.  It'd be spoiling to specify.
  • The narrative alternates between flashbacks and the present, but there is only one proper narrator (occasional embedded alternative narrators the central narrator encounters, but these are all very manageable) and never became irritating.  I think it made the book better.
  • This story is truly harrowing, guys.  We all know from the synopsis we're in for harrowing.  There are shards of hope and obvious pointers to how people coped through such an ordeal (which allow readers to cope with it all too), but there is also disturbing content and sorrowful moments.
  • There are no sex scenes, but there are references to sexual violence taking place.  No swearing.  Brief, disturbing violence.  Presence of guns.
  • Hailing from Ireland, I was impressed with how much work McVeigh had put into her research. 
Overall: I'm always in favour of people reading things that are other, from their own experience.  In the case of Under the Almond Tree, I would hope those people were 16+ and braced for a reality check, because my First World white privilege was seriously oppressive while I read this one.

Official Publication Date: Today (28 February 2017)
Review copy received from Hachette.
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