HISTORICAL ROOTS AND CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE: The novel was inspired by the Canadian government’s aggressive response to a group of Sri Lankan refugees arriving by sea in 2010, but it’s easy to see this moment as prefiguring the current world-wide refugee crisis. Migrants and asylum seekers will continue to be in the news in the lead-up to the US election.
LAW AND ORDER: With its complex dynamic between lawyer and defendant, and its probing spotlight on the prejudices and racial profiling that are all too common in the justice system, The Boat People will remind readers of TV’s many successful legal shows, like The Night Of and The Good Wife.
BOOK CLUB POTENTIAL: It takes a wildly talented and empathetic writer to pull the reader into the mind set of not only the asylum-seekers from a war-torn country but also those whose job it is to decide their fate. This complex tug-of-war will keep readers turning the pages and provides lots of fodder for book club discussions.
VIVID BUT NOT BLEAK: The horrors of the Sri Lankan civil war and the immigration detention centers are never sugarcoated and there’s a real sense of urgency, but there’s also a buoyancy coursing through the novel with many tender relationships, especially the one between Mahindan and his son.
#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
FINALIST FOR CBC CANADA READS
Harper Lee Prize - Winner
ArtsNL CBC Emerging Artist of the Year Award Winner
First Novel Award finalist
Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award - Finalist
Margaret and John Savage First Book Award - Finalist
International Dublin Literary Award - Longlist
Aspen Words Literary Prize - Longlist
Praise for The Boat People:
“The Boat People is a burning flare of a novel, at once incendiary and illuminating. With a rare combination of precision, empathy and insight, Sharon Bala has crafted an unflinching examination of what happens when the fundamental human need for safety collides with the cold calculus of bureaucracy. In the best tradition of fearless literature, it shatters our comfortable illusions about who we really are, reveals just how asymmetrical the privilege of belonging can be. This is a brilliant debut – a story that needs to be told, told beautifully.” —Omar El Akkad, author of American War
“The Boat People is a book perfect for our times, essential reading to bring context to questions which we are, perhaps, more inclined to ignore.” —Toronto Star
“A novel comprised of both beautiful and uncomfortable truths, written by an author who understands there are multiple sides to every issue – and to every human being.” —Globe and Mail
“The Boat People is full of drama and character, sharp bold sentences and movement of all sorts, global and interior. Gorgeous writing, compassionate and urgent.” —Lisa Moore
“The Boat People is a powerful, gripping moral drama told with deep compassion and humanity. Sharon Bala takes us behind the headlines about refugees and asylum seekers straight into the beating hearts of unforgettable human beings. A timely tale and a beautiful, remarkable debut.” —Lynne Kutsukake, author of The Translation of Love
“This wise and compassionate novel is an intimate portrait of one of the great humanitarian crises of our time. Its power lies in its breadth, for it examines not just those who come to our country seeking refuge, but also those who determine their fate. As such it implicates us all in the ongoing crisis.” —Shyam Selvadurai, author of The Hungry Ghosts and Funny Boy
“The Boat People is a beautifully crafted story with a big heart. This novel has an urgency and relevance that cuts to the bone and will resonate with readers of all stripes. Bala offers no easy answers and no political posturing, but her magnificent storytelling will leave readers wondering about their own convictions, asking themselves, ‘What would I do? What would I have done?’ The spirits of Bala’s complicated, well-developed characters will linger with you like ghosts; you will look for them in the newspaper, on the evening news, everywhere, and when you encounter them, you will pause and wonder, not only about them but about yourself.” —Michael Stone, author of Border Child
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