Beneath the stars, on a stony beach, stand two teenage brothers.
They are wearing lifejackets that are too big for them and their most precious belongings are sealed in waterproof bags tucked inside the rucksacks on their backs.
Turkey is behind them and Europe lies ahead, a dark, desperate swim away.
They don’t know what will come next, but they’re about to meet a man who does. He calls himself Jesus, the Messiah. He is barefoot, dishevelled and smells strongly of alcohol.
And he doesn’t believe in chance meetings. He believes he has information about the future – information that will change three lives forever…
The End of Time tells the story of two brothers, Zain and Mohammed, who are fleeing Syria and desperately trying to get to the UK. Zain is 19 years old, and has been left in charge of his younger brother as their parents had to stay in Syria, their father having been arrested and their mother waiting desperately for news of his fate. To say that their journey is a challenging one doesn’t even begin to cover it, and while there may be some artistic licence taken in imagining the steps they face, The End of Time brings to life the trials endured by those forced to leave their homes and countries behind.
It’s a story that should be depressing, particularly as the reader learns about their previous failed attempts to enter Europe through smugglers trying to rip them off and the prejudice they face from those who would like to close all borders and leave refugees to their fates, but it isn’t. There are moments that highlight the struggles and the dehumanisation that refugees face, but Extence also explores the kindness of strangers throughout the boys’ journey, and there are some genuinely touching moments throughout.
compassion tends to be much quieter than anger and ignorance and prejudice.
I’ve read all of Extence’s books, and The End of Time has the same delicate touch of humour that I’ve become familiar with, and even though the journey is difficult and not all pleasant, there are some light-hearted moments.
Zain and Mohammed are great characters. 19-year-old Zain is an intelligent and studious young man who has been put in the unfortunate position of getting his younger brother away from Syria and into Europe. It’s a huge burden, but Zain is incredibly kind and generous throughout the novel – perhaps a little too much at times – despite having little to share. Mohammed comes across as being quite different to Zain. He’s 14, and full of the swagger and bravado of youth. Football mad, Mohammed adds some levity to the novel, particularly as he swears like an absolute champion. They make a great pair, and I loved the sibling rivalry and rare moments of affection between them.
The End of Time is another excellent novel from Gavin Extence. I love his characters, who encourage empathy and understanding for others, and I think that this is a much-needed message in these times.
The End of Time was published in paperback Hodder & Stoughton on 9 January.