On Fragile Waves

[ID: The book On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu sits in a cherry tree.]

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A family travels from war-torn Afghanistan through Indonesia and Nauru until finally arriving at what they believe is a new start in Australia. However, at every turn the family finds a government that is at best indifferent to their plight, and at worst unbelieving. Though they finally make it to a home in Australia, their dreams of safety and security remain elusive. Focusing primarily on the voice of the family’s young daughter, Firuzeh, this is a heartwrenching look at the pain and disappointment that often predominates the refugee experience.

This book blew me away. It’s tragic and heartbreaking, while also having moments of humor and lyricism. From the start, we watch the family face horrific conditions. They flee Afghanistan in the evening and travel by land, air, and boat, enduring cramped spaces, a lack of food and water, and a major storm that takes the life of Firuzeh’s only friend. After that, the spirit of her dead friend continually visits Firuzeh, offering advice that isn’t always helpful.

The family’s stay at the detention center in Nauru was eye opening. I knew very little about the refugee experience in Australia and was inspired to learn more after reading this book. Though the book features many difficult situations, I found their stay at the detention center to be the hardest to read.

Once the family makes it to Australia, we hope to feel some relief from the struggle, but it continues. Firuzeh’s family is granted temporary asylum that could end, her father struggles to find work, Firuzeh struggles to fit in at her new school and is constantly treated worse than her younger brother is, and the family struggles to make ends meet. All of this places a strain on her parent’s relationship that trickles down into the children’s experiences. Tragedy after tragedy occurs, highlighting the family’s resiliency. Still, with all the pain this family faces, we see both Firuzeh and her brother begin to find friends and a place in Australia that is hopeful. 

Yu’s prose is beautifully poetic and vivid, and I loved the touch of magical realism in the story, both with the spirit visitations and with the folklore woven into the family’s story. This book is a hard read, but really enlightening and affecting. Highly recommend for a touching and timely portrait of the immigrant experience.

[CW: suicide, loss of a loved one, death, racism, abuse, bullying, sexism, refugee crisis]

Published by Kristi

Hi there! I am Kristi, a book obsessed human with strong opinions. Join me as I read across genres and do the work to find you the best of the best books.

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