From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan – review

The nature of empathy connects the stories of three men in this hard-hitting, uplifting novel

“If a tree is starving, its neighbours will send it food,” observes Farouk, one of the characters in Donal Ryan’s wise and compassionate novel. “No one really knows how this can be, but it is. Nutrients will travel in the tunnel made of fungus from the roots of a healthy tree to its starving neighbour.” Through a series of interlinking monologues, From a Low and Quiet Sea explores the ways in which human beings, too, sustain one another through deep and sometimes hidden connections.

Farouk is the first to tell his story. We meet him as a doctor, living with his wife and daughter in a Syrian town where war is gradually escalating. The police force has turned into a militia, and a new regime is asserting itself: one day, a woman is ...