Being exhausted, Rose’s mother suggests a Mediterranean cruise for her daughter and the two kids Emma and Gabriel. One night, when she cannot sleep on board, she witnesses the rescue of refugees whose boat collapsed. Between fascination and horror due to the dead she also sees, she makes contact and even offers her son’s cell phone to one of them. Younès and the others disappear as quickly as they have been saved since nothing is meant to disturb the cruisers’ holidays. Back in Paris, Rose cannot forget about the encounter but it is only a couple of months later that she will hear from the young African again and this time, she is not stunned and frozen but eager to provide help herself.
Marie Darieussecq has chosen one of the big issues of European politics of the last five years for her novel. What she masterly contrasts is life and its chances of those who live in Europe and are well-off – which does not secure them from worries and problems – and those who risk everything, even their lives, for a better living or a dream. When these worlds collide, it is interesting to see how people react.
When we meet Rose, her career and family seem to totally wear her out. The cruise which was meant to provide her with some relaxation only offers new stressors and is far from helping her to come down a bit. Only after the family has moved to the countryside and her career has come to an unexpected standstill is she able to re-think the things in her life which really matter. This allows her to take action when Younès is in need.
The most evident contrast is shown between her kids and the refugees. Even though Emma and Gabriel are not nasty or detestable, they simply behave like ordinary kids, but they appear to be consume-oriented, materialistic and ungrateful for all that is given and offered to them. Bringing Younès into the family seems to fulfil a void that has been there hidden all the time.
A lot is not said in the novel, we do not learn much about Younès, yet, it is not a story about a poor refugee, he is actually a fighter who does not give up and follows his dream. Much more interestingly is what the encounter sets free in Rose and makes her reassess her life. An interesting read which offers a lot of food for thought.
This could be his last chance for a break-through as a journalist. When Barcelona based Joan Aiguader decides to write about a victim, the 2117th refugees who dies on the dangerous way across the Mediterranean Sea, he cannot anticipate that his article will shake Department Q, Copenhagen’s cold case unit, or that he himself will soon fall in the hands of reckless terrorists. The poor woman who found death on Greek shores is well known to Assad, member of the famous and most successful unit within the Danish police. Lely Kababi once saved his life when his family had fled Iraq and now, so many years without the least information about her whereabouts, he sees her on a picture and next to her is his wife Marwa whom he has neither seen nor spoken for 16 years. Assad needs to get in touch, but he knows just from looking at the picture that this will not be easy since there is another person to be seen: his worst enemy who obviously is seeking revenge.
Jussi Adler-Olsen continues his Department Q series with a suspenseful and highly political instalment which combines current events with the story around the very special unit of the Danish law enforcement authorities. When I read the first novel, I immediately fell for the very peculiar characters Adler-Olsen created. They seemed to be quite a unique assortment of individuals who nevertheless managed to work well together and were highly successful due to their distinctive and diverse skills. All of them had a story which only slowly has been revealed throughout the different books, now it is time for Assad’s story, the most secretive of all.
I am not quite sure if I find Assad’s backstory totally convincing, but I grant it to literature to extent the borders of plausibility at times. Additionally, I am also not in the position to judge on what can happen in Middle East countries in times of war. Setting aside this aspect, I found the characters’ motivation very convincing – Assad’s as well as his opponent’s. I was quite happy to finally get an idea of his life before joining Department! Q which has always been quite blurry. And I totally adored how Adler-Olsen managed to combine this with current affairs that have been central to European politics for quite some time now. Especially the role of journalists – unfortunately only crucial at the very beginning – has been quite authentically portrayed.
The different points of view accelerate the action and lead to a high pace. It does not take long to be totally captured by the novel and again, the author has demonstrated that among the multitude of great Scandinavian crime writers, he surely is at the very top.
After losing his teaching job at a college because of his very peculiar assignments, Jonas Anderson moves to Sweden to change perspective and to have a fresh start. Even though he is some years older than the students there, he socialises with them easily and leads the life he had in his early 20s. After the break-up with his German girlfriend, he moves from Lund to Malmö, the town where 2015 masses of immigrants from the Middle East arrived. Seeing the hottest political topic in front of his own door, Jonas decides to get active and to volunteer in the work with the migrants, too. He soon realises that all that is meant to be supportive and good, doesn’t necessarily turn out to be such a good idea in the end.
Johannes Lichtman’s novel isn’t easy to sum up or to describe since his protagonist goes through tremendous changes throughout the novel which also affect the plot and the tone a lot. I really enjoyed the first part a lot when we meet Jonas trying to be a creative writing teacher. The tone here is refreshing and the character’s naiveté makes him sympathetic and likeable. With moving to Sweden and becoming a stranger and outsider, his role changes, yet, he still needs more time until he actually grows up and does something meaningful with his life.
The last part, his work with the unaccompanied minors, was for me personally the most interesting because I could empathise with him easily. Having myself worked with those youths when they came to Germany in 2015 and 2016, I went through the same emotions that Jonas went through. And I had to do exactly the same learning process: you want to help and you have good ideas, but actually they sometimes go past the needs of the refugees. The struggle between the news where all the immigrants were treated as a homogeneous mass and where the focus was put on the danger that came with them, and the everyday experiences with real people made it often hard to cope with the situation. In this respect, Lichtman did a great job because he depicted reality as it was back then.
All in all, a novel that addresses so many different topics with a lively and highly likeable style of writing, a great read not to be missed.