It’s always exciting to be involved in a blog tour for another fiction author, particularly when it gives me the spur to read something outside of my usual genre and to link up with authors and bloggers who want to help another writer with their book promotion. It reminds me of the excitement of a new project and the way people’s hearts, minds and spirits can be touched by fiction, particularly if the author is a Christian who wants to incorporate Christian characters and themes in their work. Therefore, I’m delighted to introduce you to Paul Alkazraji, author of The Migrant, a thriller published by Instant Apostle in February this year.
The Migrant is the story of Alban, a young man running away from a difficult situation in Albania in search of a better life in Greece. There’s plenty of drama and action right from the start. We follow Alban as he dodges the Greek border guards and makes his way to the big city lights of Athens, dreaming of a good job, not realising he risks being groomed by a criminal gang into a life of corruption.
To keep the reader engrossed in the story, Paul switches point of view at several key moments. We also meet Jude, the English literature graduate who now pastors the church in Albania to which Alban had belonged. He sets out in search of Alban with a couple of unlikely companions: Mehmed, a recently converted people-trafficker, and Alban’s Uncle Luan, a non-believing police officer. Battling their own inner demons and each other, this mismatched trio faces a succession of setbacks and perils along the way. We are also allowed inside the mind of a corrupt and violent police officer, Donis, whose loyalties are tested when he is asked to infiltrate the fascist gang he secretly supports.
My first impression on reading ‘The Migrant’ was that it was not your usual run-of-the-mill thriller, heavy on plot and violence and light on characterisation and description. Instead, the story is unexpectedly grounded in a sense of time and place. The descriptions of the landscapes and cityscapes are particularly evocative. I really did feel as though I were entering a different world – the hallmark of a good writer. It made me realise how many good things I take for granted in my own life and how tough it can be to be born into a country such as Albania.
Much of the action takes place in post credit crunch Greece and for both countries it’s a time of austerity. There are tensions between the people of Greece and the European Union. This, together with an immigration crisis fuelled in part by the Syrian civil war, has provided the perfect conditions for the rise of criminal gangs and far right nationalists. Austerity, nationalism, immigration, tensions with the EU. Does this sound familiar? I wonder whether the author could have known when writing this book how deeply these themes would resonate for a reader living in a United Kingdom in the grip of Brexit.
This is not a political book, however. It is a book about people who put their own lives in danger to rescue someone they care about. Jude’s Christian faith is lived out through his actions. Although a peaceful man and a loving husband to his newly pregnant wife, he makes the difficult decision to enter Greece illegally to rescue a ‘lost sheep’. Ultimately it’s a story of redemption, although the forces of evil are frustrated rather than eradicated. I sense a sequel in the making!
It was no surprise to discover that the author, having started out as a writer and journalist in the UK, has lived and worked with the church in Albania for the last fifteen years. In fact, looking at some of the author photos which have been provided for this blog tour, I can well imagine him inhabiting the same exciting and dangerous world as Alban, Jude, Mehmed and Luan.
Paul himself says, ‘I wrote it to take the reader on an adventurous road trip into the danger of real events that have happened and are still happening now. I made the journey down through Greece myself in an old Mercedes car to experience the sights and sounds of the country so I could evoke a keen sense of time and place as a backdrop. I have worked for some years with the local church in Albania and seen first-hand the struggles and risks many Albanians face to escape poverty and unemployment and find work abroad. It is, in a way, their story I am telling. I have seen Christians take loving risks to reach and help them too, and have also seen Albanians find new hope, real hope, that lasts. There are important truths I hope to have illustrated in the story, from Scripture and from my own first-hand experiences in Albania and Greece.’
In a world where so much Christian fiction is aimed at a female audience, it is refreshing to read a book with muscular characters – both literally and spiritually – who are not afraid to take risks and tackle evil head on. With its tight plotting, strong characterisation and emphasis on personal relationships, however, this book should appeal to men and women alike, as well as to people of faith and those who are still searching for ultimate answers.
Paul Alkazraji worked as a freelance journalist in the UK from the mid-nineties. His was published in Christianity Magazine, The Christian Herald, The Church Times and The Baptist Times among other publications, and his travel articles were also published in The Independent.
Paul’s first book Love Changes Everything, a collection of seven testimonies, was published by Scripture Union in 2001, and his second, Heart of a Hooligan, a biography of ex-football hooligan Dave Jeal, was published by Highland Books in 2000. His third book Christ and the Kalashnikov, a biography of missionaries Ian and Caralee Loring, was published by Harper Collins in 2001. The Silencer, a thriller set in Albania, Greece and Turkey, was published by Highland Books in 2012. Paul has lived and worked with the church in Albania for fifteen years.
You can follow Paul on Twitter: @paul_alkazraji
The Migrant by Paul Alkazraji (ISBN: 9781909728981) is published by Instant Apostle and is available from Christian bookshops, bookstores and online retailers. Fiction, 272pp, £8.99.