A Stranger in Olondria
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A Stranger in Olondria

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  204 ratings  ·  76 reviews

Jevick, the pepper merchant's son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick's life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. But just as he revels in Olondria's Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastica...more
Paperback, 299 pages
Published April 24th 2013 by Small Beer Press (first published September 11th 2012)
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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy FowlerThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanA Stranger in Olondria by Sofia SamatarThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene WeckerNeptune's Brood by Charles Stross
2014 Sci-Fi Award Nominees
3rd out of 38 books — 8 voters
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia SamatarMoonheart by Charles de LintThings Invisible To See by Nancy WillardThe Hound and the Falcon by Judith TarrReindeer Moon by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
IAFA Crawford Award Winners
1st out of 30 books — 2 voters

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Community Reviews

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Drenched in equal parts beauty and sorrow, Sofia Samatar's lush first novel makes for compelling reading. I had first journyed to the island of Tinimavet, homeland of Jevick, a pepper merchant's son and subsequent heir, via a chapbook preview given out at WisCon 2012. After reading the first several chapters, I was addicted to Samatar's rich prose, as well as being enamored of the Tea Islands and the titular Olondria, to which Jevick travels after his father dies and he takes over the family tra...more
Amal El-Mohtar
This book. I am going to write a super long review of this book and eventually link to it here because, this book.

If you love books, and languages, and literatures, and complexity, and a lingering love of tactile detail, you will adore this book.
Therese Arkenberg
Sofia Samatar's prose is lush. Very lush. As lush as the verdant forests of Jennat, where in the evenings spice-scented mists rose and are taken for ghosts by the taro farmers on the slopes above (not an actual quote, but my attempt to mirror the style). Some might say too lush.

I love rich description, but there comes a point where further detail is only detracting from the story rather than setting the scene. When Jevick is given a mystic book, it doesn't matter to me that the book comes wrappe...more
There is a line in this breathtaking novel that had me thinking of the lilting cadences of Out of Africa: "And I was riding a white mule," I said, "bringing pepper to sell on the hill..."

One of the most constraining aspects of SF and fantasy is the definitions that are inevitably used to corral, and often pigeonhole, these genres. Think of SF, and many people think automatically of spaceships and space battles; think of fantasy, and Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings will be evoked.

Then you ge...more
Wow. The writing is gorgeous, poetic, full of sensual details, and the world Samatar creates is more real than the one we live in. If you're looking for real magic, this book is where it's at.
Mar 05, 2014 Roslyn added it
Shelves: want-to-read
It’s taken me a while to figure out what to say about 'A Stranger in Olondria'. I had (once again – this seems to be happening a lot for me lately in my reading experience) very mixed feelings about it.

I found it a hard slog to get through this book, at least until about the halfway mark, and again after that, until near the end. The prose is exquisite – gorgeous, intricate, lush, rich. The problem was that for me, it was so dense that it was like hacking through thick vegetation. Rather than e...more
Reading A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar was an odd experience. I’d been looking forward to this novel for a long time. In theory, it looked right up my alley. I expected to be blown away. Instead, I ended up abandoning the novel at about the midway point. Yet, even though I gave up on it, there’s also a lot to love about it. I may even find myself going back to it, one day.

Read the entire review on my site Far Beyond Reality!
This was recommended to me as very much my sort of thing, and it is. I like stories that contain other stories, that are not all of the same texture and that do not flow all in one direction, that have loose ends and loose beginnings, that have nuts and grains and nuggets of fruit and cheese and bacon in them, instead of being tidy and homogeneous like white bread.

This book is like that. So if you like books that stick to a single narrative and race from one event to another on a timetable, lik...more
Jun 05, 2014 Sunil rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: own, 2014
To read A Stranger in Olondria is to be transported to another world by the sheer power of words, and to be a stranger in Olondria is to be in another world and holding on to the power of words.

I came to this book not knowing anything about it but that one reviewer had described it as "frustrating, beautiful, and memorable," and, as I am an impressionable young lad, that may have colored my impressions, as I've ended up agreeing with him.

The plot is simple: Jevick goes to Olondria (where he is a...more
Beautifully written narrative, the author brings the world to life vividly. That said the story just didn't resonate with me at all.
Barry King
This is a many-layered book, and so it is difficult to encapsulate in a review, but I'll try.

When I first started reading it, I immediately was reminded of some novels I read a couple of decades ago, "A Bend in the River", "Christ Stopped at Eboli", or "Henderson the Rain King", in that the protagonist is in a culture that they know well, but they were not born into, and that there is enough of an alien flair to it that he cannot feel at ease or ever comfortably take part.

But a second narrative...more
I'm not much of a one for poetry, lyrically or as prose. That is, I like it, and I appreciate it, but I'm a fairly pragmatic person and I generally prefer story over how the story is told. My absolute preference is for good prose with story if I can get it, but of course that doesn't always happen. And sometimes the beauty of the prose makes a bit of a non-story into something wonderful. I think particularly of Kij Johnson's "The Man Who Bridged the Mist": there's really not much story to be tol...more
I said more than once, while waiting for this somewhat delayed first novel to appear, that Sofia Samatar is one of the few writers who has intrigued me about their long-form fiction through their criticism, reviews in these pages and elsewhere. For others I gather Samatar’s poetry was as much of a draw. Both tendencies are as visible as you’d hope in A Stranger in Olondria, which is a remarkable and beautiful secondary-world fantasy whose capacious voice encompasses, among other things, literary...more
Cathy Douglas
Jun 13, 2014 Cathy Douglas is currently reading it
I sort of like this, but I don't know if I can finish it.

Reading Samatar's prose is like trying to eat your way through a Viennese pastry shop. At first, it's the most delightful thing ever. Reading, reading, reading; butter, salt, flour, cream. O, my, yes, that ecstatic cream!

Then, pretty soon, your cells start to swell all up like little overinflated balls. And you can either sit around waiting for your own imminent explosion, or you can swear never to touch another simile again.
Short version: oppressively lush prose, interesting ideas that weren't executed in a way that I found engaging.

I am terrifically bored by stories in which a girl dies, latches onto a boy, who inevitably falls in love with her, and needs him to save her and set them both free. Jissavet has to die to be important to the narrative, and she also cannot move on until Jevick writes her story down. (Would I have been so irritated if Jevick was a woman? I think it would have been a more interesting auth...more
In the balance of all things fun in a novel, A Stranger in Olondria tips heavily toward gorgeousness, in the detailed physical and cultural setting and the lyrical descriptive prose. Plot and character are relatively straightforward, with interesting choices of where to spend words, but no shocks and thrills. It reads like a memoir and travelogue, in a fantastical, genuine world. This is one of those stories in which you slide into the character's voice and inhabit his life like a dream. Recomme...more
This book features lush writing with rich descriptions. Scent is as important for establish place in this travelogue of fabulous places as is sight or sound.

The book is built on themes that make it rich and interesting, but never overwhelm the narrative.

I may be too close to the experience of being in the book's world to write a fully fleshed review, but I can say that I very much enjoyed spending time in Samatar's Olondria and with her characters.

I'll definitely keep an eye out for more work b...more
Dave Versace
Sofia Samatar’s wonderful 'A Stranger in Olondria' 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’ apa...more
Beautiful. Lush. The world Samatar creates is so real you can hear, feel and see it. I liked the book within a book better than the main story- Jissavet's tale was captivating. That's likely my shortcoming more than the author's: I tend to be less interested in stories with a male protagonist, and this one never hooked me.
Miriam Williams
Review is also available on my blog, Inky Realms.

The blurb for A Stranger of Olondria outlines (or possibly, spoils) the plot of the entire novel. I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing or not, as this book seems much more about the writing and personal growth the characters than anything as prosaic as the plot.

It starts off almost like a travelogue, describing Jevick’s privileged childhood in the scorching village of Tyom. As the heir of his father’s wealth, Jevick is tutored not by a local, but an...more
An interesting, unusual fantasy novel, and a paean to reading, but when it skewed off into the love story/ghost story it is sometimes described as, it lost me almost completely. Love the worldbuilding, meh on the story.

I did like this bit about ending a book (used, you will probably be unsurprised to hear, as a metaphor for death):

"Earlier, frightened, you began to have some intimation of it: so many pages had been turned, the book was so heavy in one hand, so light in the other, thinning toward...more
On the surface, this book is a love song to books wrapped in a coming-of-age-travel-story. Jevick is an overeducated misfit when he goes to Paris, er Bain, to carry on the family business, but he is much more interested in the culture than the business. In the process of his cultural education, he comes down with a bad case of ghost. Travails ensue.

It's not that I don't love ornate imagery and fabulous language. It's that by 3/4 of the way through this book, I was longing for something to cut t...more
Fantasy Literature
In A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar takes us on a journey that is as familiar and foreign as a land in a dream. It’s a study of two traditions, written and oral, and how they intersect. Samatar uses exquisite language and precise details to craft a believable world filled with sight, sound and scent.

The book follows Jevick, who journeys from Bain, the Harbor City of the land of Olondria to a distant valley, on a quest to settle the ghost that haunts him. Along the way, he becomes a pawn bet...more
Andreea Pausan
An amazing book about books "deposits of words", about love and lost and absolution.

Jevick from the island of Tyom, travels as a pepper merchant to the fabled country of Olondria, where his tutor came from. He is a youth hungry for stories, an avid reader. On the ship to Olondria, he meets another islander, Jissavet, who is mortally ill and goes to a sanatorium, accompanied by her mother and an old servant. Once in the land of his dreams, the wondrous city of Bain, Jevick begins to experience li...more
James Williams
I don't run across much literary fiction when perusing the SF/F aisles. There's something about genre fiction that tends to attract simpler writing styles with punchy plots. And that's not a bad thing: I like punchy plots and engaging writing.

But sometimes it's nice to have something a little meatier too. And if that meatier book finds itself in a genre where it has a bunch of conventions to play with, that's all the better.

This book satisfies the desire for literary fiction. And it has some f...more
Justin Howe
A lush world to get lost in here, of history and story, without any bloated POV immediacy or tedious door opening. It reminded me of the best bits of Jan Potocki’s Saragossa Manuscript.

Read it.
Ibrahim Z
Really unexpected! I hadn't read the author before, but was interested in fantasy outside the realm of medieval europe with magic. It ended up being a really compelling blend of travelogue and fantasy.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lyrical, haunting, this is a book about books, about reading, about love and loss, a memoir containing myths and histories and ghost stories.

More than anything, the dense, poetic writing style reminds me of Vollman's The Atlas, with its ever-present nostalgia that rises up from the page and threatens to crush your ribcage with its beauty.

The world-building is reminiscent of Ursula LeGuin, taking an almost anthropological tone when describing the intersection and oppression of multiple invented...more
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Sofia Samatar is the author of the novel A Stranger in Olondria (Small Beer Press, 2013). Her short fiction, poetry and reviews have appeared in a number of places, including Clarkesworld Magazine, Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons and Stone Telling. Find out more at www.sofiasamatar.com. (Photo: Adauto Araujo.)
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“Long is the journey homeward, Weary and worn are we. Oh, if I fall behind, my love, Will you look back for?” 2 likes
“But preserve your mistrust of the page, for a book is a fortress, a place of weeping, the key to a desert, a river that has no bridge, a garden of spears.” 2 likes
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