A Stranger in Olondria - Starter 4 - The Location


What did you make of the several locations? What earthly places were you reminded of? The author, Sofia Samatar, has lived in the Sudan and Egypt, and currently teaches at university level on African and Arabic literature. Did this show? 


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    I definitely thought that this book was a response to European colonialism, and enjoyed how it subverted the "active" vs "passive" peoples by ascribing agency and gaze to everyone. Detected an analogy of stages of life that was a bit much for me, but appreciated that throughout there is a returning gaze that looks on the dominant, and recognised that relation with generations of children and parents, which I thought was better handled here than say in Vita Nostra. So yes I think her learning of multiple literatures shows.

    The world as described reminds me of China and the Pacific, and also the relations of centres and peripheries that I learned about from my very brief foray into Islam as an expanding civilisational nexus in Africe and Central / South Asia, not so much in the details of the cultures, but in presenting a geographical context where peoples and civilisations mixing has been going on so long that those cultures are aware of others as part of the world. Welcome relief from some weird and inconceivable sovereignty producing ever greater misery that underlies so much popular fiction.

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    I also picked up on the South-East Asia analogy, and agree it was refreshing to have a setting that was devoid of European influence.

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    My first impressions were rather of renaissance Italy and Constantinople. The novel definitely has a sense of place, and there's a lot of wonderful creative elements in the world building that I really enjoyed. What particularly caught my eye were all the little details - Jevick's brother, Jom, for example, carries a little bag of sesame seeds at his belt. Later in the novel, there's a demon referred to as "The Old Man of Youth", and I just loved that concept. Olondria (which sounds latin derived) seemed very much like "The Mediterannean World" with all its diverse influences. And the map seems to evoke this as well, with the main city being the hub on the isthmus. Like Utopia, it's someplace and no place.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    My first impressions were rather of renaissance Italy and Constantinople.

    Yeah, cosmopolitan across several cultures / peoples, even Jevick's seemingly provincial source culture. I also liked how the dynamic of interpretation of Jevick's personal experience was hybridised by the location of the possession, and how people responded by acknowledging that placement and displacement mattered.

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    My own associations were with ancient Egypt or India, but I suspect that Sofia Samatar has amalgamated lots of diverse influences.

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    I thought her wordbuilding was superb throughout. The sense of place was powerful, and every place distinct in its look and feel, and in its cultural texture.

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