Jan. 11th, 2017

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To read Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria is to be immersed in glorious prose that ripples and flows as it presents a rich and complex world, itself filled with words and the love of books and an appreciation of the power of words and narrative and language and myth, and their role in creating, preserving and altering culture.

It is into this world of languages and changing cultures that the protagonist, Jevek of Tyom, comes, first through the Olondrian books given to him by his tutor, which make him a stranger in his own country as he absorbs the visions of Olondria he finds in those books, and again through his voyage, as a stranger and a merchant taking over his father's business, to Olondria itself.

And it is as a stranger in Olondria, as one who longs to enter into a culture not his own, even as he learns that his books have not prepared him for Olondria as it is, that he learns through words, through hardship, through violence and through mystery to know who he is, to value his own people's ways and words and to bring them a written language of their own, to preserve their own stories.

Reviewer Nic Clarke has written about this so much better than I can:

"In Stranger, Samatar is keenly interested in the connections between language, culture, knowledge, and the self: how language functions as a marker and shaper of self- and communal identity; how facility with language, both oral and written, confers confidence, status and power; how words turned into text can convey emotion and meaning across time and cultural boundaries; and the possibilities of cultural contact that language opens up, or (when misunderstood or misused) closes down. Whether that contact is constructive or destructive, and for whom, is another matter, of course, and one with which Stranger also deals." [1]

A Stranger in Olondria is a beautiful, thoughtful, magical book, and I cannot praise it highly enough.

[1] http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/reviews/a-stranger-in-olondria-by-sofia-samatar/

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