A review by vivaldi
On Fragile Waves, by E. Lily Yu


Due to my long book backlist, it's been a while since I've last finished a book with days after its publication date. So I was really that glad I get to read On Fragile Waves in the last few days. This is a heartbreaking & poetic magic realism piece about an Afghan family escaping from war and finding new opportunities in Australia. With a unique writing style as well as careful research, E. Lily Yu painted a beautiful dreamscape that conveys both excellent storytelling as well as the undercurrents which shape / splinter the family.

Beautiful moments in On Fragile Waves are abundant and this is shown from the writing style. I have so many quotes highlighted on my iPad because the proses breathe life and are so gorgeous. To mention a few quotes I absolutely love:

"Moonlight washed the gnawed coral pinnacles, frosted the skeletal phosphate cranes, and drenched the canvas tents where a hundred dreamers dreamed gray, grim, and miserable dreams."

"There's something about beginnings and endings. That polishes them so smooth you can nearly see your face in them."

"Home is where you're safe, but sometimes it's not safe. Sometimes it's not yours, but you can shut your eyes and pretend it is."

"I was a daughter-shaped space in the universe."

Quotes like this demonstrated superb word-painting which brings the characters and settings alive. These proses conveyed the tragic experience of refugees seeking a stable home in a Australia, as well as the societal expectations of growing up. While the family suffered as they escaped the war, small & beautiful moments of storytelling was a welcoming relief. The stories that Firuzeh and Nour shared with each other during the times of hardship organically fleshes out the Afghan culture. These stories also have a tint of hopefulness as each of them seeks out the narratives throughout the novel. I'm particularly touched by Firuzeh's narrative of coming of age. So the writing left a lot of impression and emotional impact on me. It's thought-provoking and heartbreaking all the same.

While I love the writing style, there are a few minor concerns I had with On Fragile Waves. For instance, the spoken sections aren't embedded with quotation marks which can be difficult to follow. I don't think this is a big issue because these chapters are trying to convey finding a relief from the turbulent currents outside, through the storytelling & the fantasy worlds. I also think the multiple POV's was another part which initially threw me off, but as I crunched through the novel I realised how these additional POV's provided the context of the social dynamics in Australia and how the neighbours treated the family members. So I found these sections succinct and yet very well researched.

To sum it up, On Fragile Waves is a beautifully heartbreaking and thought-provoking body of work with excellent storytelling. I would highly recommend this to anyone who's into magic realism.