When reading and writing are the most important things in the world.
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—but which his mother calls the Ghost Country. 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. Just as he revels in Olondria’s Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl.
In desperation, Jevick seeks the aid of Olondrian priests and quickly becomes a pawn in the struggle between the empire’s two most powerful cults. Even as the country simmers on the cusp of war, he must face his ghost and learn her story before he has any chance of freeing himself by setting her free: an ordeal that challenges his understanding of art and life, home and exile, and the limits of that most seductive of necromancies, reading.
A Stranger in Olondria is a rich, immersive fantasy that circles around and away from and back to the transportation of reading and how ideas can be carried far from their origins in something so simple as a book.
“Samatar’s richly woven debut fantasy takes us far from home. Growing up in the primitive isolation of the Tea Islands, Jevick has longed to travel to the spice markets in Bain, where the family’s pepper harvest is sold. He impatiently devours descriptions and stories when his imperious father returns every season, and the arrival of an Olondrian tutor only adds to the allure of the unknown land. When Jevick finally begins his own voyage, he discovers he is traveling down a perilous path of mystery, passion, and danger that no counsel could have foreseen. A chance meeting of a young woman traveling on a pilgrimage will change the course of Jevick’s life forever. VERDICT Jevick’s journey is an enchanting tale of wonder and superstition, revealing the power of books and the secret traditions of ancient voices. Samatar’s sensual descriptions create a rich, strange landscape, allowing a lavish adventure to unfold that is haunting and unforgettable.”
—Library Journal (*starred review*)
"Thoroughly engaging and thoroughly original. A story of ghosts and books, treachery and mystery, ingeniously conceived and beautifully written. One of the best fantasy novels I've read in recent years."—Jeffrey Ford
"Mesmerizing—a sustained and dreamy enchantment. A Stranger in Olondria reminds both Samatar's characters and her readers of the way stories make us long for faraway, even imaginary, places and how they also bring us home again."—Karen Joy Fowler
"Gorgeous writing, beautiful and sensual and so precise—a Proustian ghost story."—Paul Witcover
"Imagine an inlaid cabinet, its drawers within drawers filled with spices, roses, amulets, bright cities, bones, and shadows. Sofia Samatar is a merchant of wonders, and her A Stranger in Olondria is a bookshop of dreams."—Greer Gilman
In this hypnotic debut Jevik the pepper merchant's son dreams of far Olondria. Raised by his tutors on the written dreams of the distant city, when he gets the opportunity to travel there, his life is thrown off track when he is haunted by the ghost of a girl whom he must face down before he can go free. Reading has never been so seductive, so dangerous.
Sofia Samatar is an American of Somali and Swiss German Mennonite background. Her writing has appeared in Clarkesworld, Stone Telling, Apex, and Strange Horizons. She wrote A Stranger in Olondria in Yambio, South Sudan, where she worked as an English teacher. She has worked in Egypt and now lives in the USA with her family.