Written by Haya Saleh and translated by Marcia Lynx Qualey, Wild Poppies is an emotionally engrossing middle-grade story of two Syrian brothers, Omar and Sufyan, whose lives are torn apart due to the war.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Amin El Gamal, and oh my goodness, what a fabulous narration. It’s straight from the heart!
The brothers, along with their mother and younger sister, are forced to live in a refugee camp after their village is bombed and their father is martyred. Left with no other choice, 15-year-old Omar takes on the role of the protector and caretaker. Omar is practical and gentle and loves reading books, much to the annoyance of his younger brother Sufyan, who is overconfident and impulsive. A skilled hunter and shooter, he wants to help take care of his family, too. Unfortunately, he is tricked into joining a radical religious group that is recruiting young boys as foot soldiers. The story is about the brothers finding each other and the right path on this harrowing journey.
The writing is simple and apt for the target audience. I loved the manner in which the characters find closure and their story arc is well developed. It’s impossible to not root for the brothers and their friends, Salma and Rukyan.
Since the story is narrated from a dual perspective, it helps us see the brother’s world through their eyes. Both of them are in the same situation, and yet, their approach to it is different and is guided by their respective beliefs and thought processes.
While the ending is abrupt, it is hopeful and a relief after reading about the brothers’ traumatic experiences.
Saleh presents the situation realistically. This book is a wonderful resource to have engaging discussions on the aftermath of war, the lives of refugees, religious extremists, and the perseverance to go on despite all challenges.
Amin El Gamal’s narration is fabulous, no doubt. The audiobook would have been even more enjoyable if there had been two different narrators.
Though I had a fabulous time reading this book, I feel a word of caution is required too. Since the book deals with serious themes, some middle graders might find the book a little dark. It is better if the parents/teachers vet it first.
‘Wild Poppies’ is an honest and heart-breaking story of survival amidst despair. I can’t recommend it enough!
Wordsopedia Rating 4.75/5
Trigger warnings – Abuse, killings, bombing, starvation, kidnapping, displacement.
|Title: Wild Poppies
|Author: Haya Saleh
|Publisher: RB MEdia
|Publication date: 23 May 2023
|Genre: Fiction—Middle Grade
|No. of Hours: 3 hours 58 minutes
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About the author
Haya Saleh Ibrahim is a Jordanian critic, novelist, playwright, drama writer and children’s writer born in 1977, working in the Art House and as a critic and writer in the field of theatre and drama.
About the translator
M Lynx Qualey is a literary critic, book editor, and occasional ghostwriter who runs the “ArabLit” website (arablit.org), which won a 2017 London Book Fair “Literary Translation Initiative” prize. She also publishes ArabLit Quarterly magazine and co-hosts the Bulaq podcast. Her Kirkus-starred co-translation of the middle-grade novel Ghady and Rawan, co-written by Fatima Sharafeddine and Samar Mahfouz Barraj, is available via University of Texas Press (August 2019).