61 minutes | Jul 30, 2021

Echoes of a Fairy Tale in a Devastating Novel

Omar El Akkad’s new novel, “What Strange Paradise,” uses some fablelike techniques to comment on the migrant crisis caused by war in the Middle East. El Akkad explains that he thinks of the novel as a reinterpretation of the story of Peter Pan, told as the story of a contemporary child refugee.“There’s this thing Borges once said about how all literature is tricks, and no matter how clever your tricks are, they eventually get discovered,” El Akkad says. “My tricks are not particularly clever. I lean very hard on inversion. I wanted to take a comforting story that Westerners have been telling their kids for the last hundred years, and I wanted to invert it, to tell a different kind of story.” He continues: “At its core, it’s a book about dueling fantasies: the fantasies of people who want to come to the West because they think it’s a cure for all ills, and the fantasies of people who exist in the West and think of those people as barbarians at the gate. The book takes place at the collision of those two fantasies.”Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, two reporters at The Times, visit the podcast this week to discuss their new book, “An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination,” including how the company makes many of its strategic decisions.“A lot of people think that a company like this, that’s so sophisticated, that has so many people who have come in with such incredible pedigrees, that they have a plan in mind,” Kang says. “They’re actually, in many cases, doing this on the fly. They’re making a lot of ad hoc decisions.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Emily Eakin and MJ Franklin talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“How the Word Is Passed” by Clint Smith“Red Comet” by Heather Clark“Lenin” by Victor Sebestyen
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