Dimitri Nasrallah's Niko

Niko is Montreal author Dimitri Nasrallah's first novel. It's a globe-trotting, heart-breaking story about war, immigration, and exile. This Gazette review justifiably calls it a tall tale, but it's equally true that the setting (Montreal, for much of the novel), and the specificity of the experiences make it clear that this is a work with its foundations in lived experience and careful observation. 

Niko follows Nakhle (Niko) Karam and his father Antoine on their flight from war-torn Beirut after a bomb kills Niko's pregnant mother. Desperate to escape, they find temporary refuge in Cyprus, then Turkey and Greece. Eventually the two are separated - Niko is sent to Canada to live with his Tante Yvonne and her husband Sami, because Antoine cannot afford to immigrate himself. Niko grows up in Canada with his aunt and uncle.

What I find particularly powerful about books like Niko or Dave Eggers's What is the What (another heart-breaking book about surviving war and refugeedom - about a Sudanese Lost Boy) is how they emphasize the hardships immigrants and refugees face, hardships that are all the more horrific because we recognize the contexts in which they occur. While we all know war is bad, we don't realize the extent to which people still deal with adversity when they arrive in the places that will be their new homes.

Anyway enough yammering about refugees. Know this: Niko is one of the best 2011 novels I've read, and it is an epic, sweeping story about war and family and loss that really conveys the agony of exile, and also makes that suffering comprehensible on a really intimate level. It's a debut novel by a Montreal author. Please read it.

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