Close to the Wind by Jon Walter (2015)
Malik and his grandfather are trying to escape their war-torn country. They have one way out–on board the ship that is set to depart the next day. However, Malik’s mother is missing after a raid in his hometown. Tickets for the voyage are in high-demand and the cost is high. People will do anything in order to secure a ticket for the journey. Even old acquaintances cannot be trusted. Malik is holding out hope that his mother will return and all three of them will be able to escape their country before the ship departs.
SOME SPOILERS AHEAD. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
What I liked: With no clear point in time or location, Malik’s story is a timeless refugee story. There are suggestions of certain technologies such as automobiles and elevators, but their existence does not effect the plot. Walter weaves a story that can be applied to war both past and present.
Upon starting this book, I was immediately immersed into the story and characters. Walter’s writing came to life and I felt much more like I was watching a movie rather than reading a book. The opening scene has Malik and Papa walking down a quiet street lined with abandoned houses. As I read I could hear the soles of their shoes echoing on the street, and could see the transformation in the neighborhood’s appearance as they clicked one the flashlight.
What I didn’t like: I couldn’t decide if I liked the grandfather or not. From the very start of the book it seemed as if he was lying to Malik. Through the first part of the book I was waiting for Malik to somehow receive news that his mother was dead and had been killed in the raid several days prior. Papa was also impatient with Malik and never seemed to want to take the time to put Malik’s worries to rest. At the same time, I understand his irritation during a very stressful situation and reasoning for wanting to protect Malik from the horrors of war.
While I found Walter’s writing to be very powerful in invoking a tangible setting and authentic characters, I found the story to drag on. It felt to me that too much time was spent waiting around in the abandoned house and getting wrapped up in Oskar’s gambling circle while aboard the ship. In comparison, the ending felt rushed. With as determined as Malik was to devote all of his time finding Papa and Mama, very little detail was given as to how he managed this feat and eventually got acclimated to his new life.
I wish there would have been more conflict between Malik and Angelo Vex. Vex was painted to be a black-hearted, greedy villian who would go to all lengths to get what he wanted. Malik was genuinely scared of him and how Vex would react when he recognized Malik on the ship. In the end though it took mere finger-waving by the ship’s purser to get him to give up on his quest for Papa’s diamond.
My opinion in summary: Close to the Wind is a timeless refugee story that provides realistic look into the effects of war on civilians, and their stories as they seek refuge. There’s loss, uncertainty in what the next day will bring, and unanswered questions, but also the promise of a new beginning for Malik.
Overall rating: 7 out of 10