- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday (January 9, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385542291
- ISBN-13: 978-0385542296
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.5 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #344,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Boat People: A Novel Hardcover – January 9, 2018
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"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 and 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 New Yorker
"Timely and engrossing...This is a powerful debut."
"Rooted in actual events, Bala uses the tools of fiction to excavate the human truths hidden under the headlines...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."
“This earnest debut novel forcefully explores the issues surrounding immigration…deeply moving and nuanced, The Boat People asks what price a country is willing to pay when public safety comes at the cost of human lives.”
"A multifaceted debut novel...Cinematic details transport us to a tension-rich drama...Bala moves fluidly from past to present, mixing memories with current crises...Such juxtapositions build and maintain suspense all the way to the last line, where readers are left hanging, as if justice is in our hands."
“A deeply honest story that speaks from the soul of the refugee. Sharon Bala paints a picture of love, strength and struggle so vividly and so powerfully with her words, that it has the ability to be a catalyst for a deeper conversation and change about issues surrounding immigration today…Bravo to Bala on a phenomenal début that gives life to every one of us who wants people to have the opportunity for a better life.”
About the Author
Sharon Bala lives in St. John’s where she is a member of The Port Authority writing group. Her short story “Butter Tea at Starbucks” won the prestigious Writers’ Trust / McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize in 2017. The Boat People is her first novel. Please visit SharonBala.com.
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I found the writing in this book to be pretty great. It was hard at first to figure out who were talking and such, as it wasn't written in the usual way. But I got used to it, and enjoyed the writing a lot. This book is told from three point of views. Mahindan. Priya. Grace. All had a story to tell, and I liked reading about all three.
But oh, I have a lot of feelings about this book. And a bunch that I need to talk about. This one was a three star for me, because it was not perfect. But it was such an important book. And I do feel that everyone should read it. It tells a story from 2009, of a boat with over 500 refugees from Sri Lanka arriving in Canada. They all think they are finally safe, safe from war, and in a good place. This is not true. They are not free to live in Canada. They are all put in a jail, men in one, women in another. They are all treated good, and are fed well, but they are still captives. And reading about this was pretty horrible. Not going to share my personal feelings on refugees, but I will say that we are all human, and should all be treated as such. We are all worthy of the same life.
Reading about Mahindan was heartbreaking. He is one of the people from the boat, age mid-thirty. He has his small son with him, six years old. Through this book we get to know about his life. How his wife died. How the war in Sri Lanka affected his life. It was sad and so interesting to read about. I liked it a lot. Mahindan was complicated, yet a great character too. His relationship with his son killed me. Mahindan has to spend months in this prison, waiting to know if he will be let into Canada, or sent back home to die.
Priya was an interesting character to read about too. Her family came from Sri Lanka also, years before Mahindan. Her part in this story is being an assistant lawyer, helping the refugees with their cases, so that they may be let into Canada. And Priya was such a good person. She had a great heart, and I just loved reading about her. Well, most of the time. She was a bit too cowardly at times, to be honest. But oh, her family. Gosh, I loved her family. Learning the past of her uncle was heartbreaking and very awesome too.
Then there was Grace. I think I was supposed to hate this woman. And I did. Because she was not nice. I suppose she had a heart, somewhere. But it was hidden deep. Very deep. And I never got to see her get better. Hmph. Reading about her family and their past was interesting, though. But she as a person pretty much sucked. Which was disappointing. This woman was the one who decided if the refugees had to be in jail, for months, or could be released. Or even sent back. She was not being kind about it, to be honest.
This book is so complicated. And there is so much going on in it. It is a story about refugees. About how their life was good one moment, then the war came, and just about everyone they cared about died. They had a chance to leave, and they took it. But it is not easy in Canada either, as they are being held for so long. Reading about it all was interesting, though. Wish it had been a bit more, as there could have been more endings for all the stories. But it was a good book. Despite some issues, I liked it a lot. Well, mostly.
I'm giving this book three stars, because while I did like it, and found so much of it to be heartbreaking, I also were not that invested in the story. Probably because this is not my genre or the ages that I'm used to reading about. It wasn't as exciting as I'm used to. But this was an important book, even so. But yes. I was a bit disappointed, because of the ending. I can't help but spoil a little. I am so upset about it. Nothing is cleared up. What happened to Mahindan? Is he free? Sent back? I must know. Seriously. It is not said.
And I feel incredibly disappointed by it. It took me ages to read this book, as it was so heavy at times, and then get to the ending, and I'm cheated? What. Not pleased. I do not know what happened to Mahindan. I don't know what happens with Grace. Or really what happens with Priya either. And ugh, I'm so not happy about it. Yes, this book was good and important, and it made my heart hurt. But that ending sucked. And I just feel very disappointed about it. Like the whole book was pointless, in a way. I need an ending. Hmph.
But besides all of that. I am glad that I gave The Boat People a try. It was a stunning and heartbreaking story. About survival and family. About refugees and how some people treat them. About war in a country that I did not know anything about before I read this book. I'm glad I learned a lot of new things. I'm glad I read this book. But yes, ending was not good. Huge thank you to Penguin Random House International for sending me a finished copy of this book to read and review. I think that you should all try this book too.
This review was first posted on my blog, Carina's Books.
In general though I enjoyed this book and found it deals with an important subject.
The main message I took: Canadian reaction to refugees is variable and unpredictable. The adjudicators who make life and death decisions are often political appointees who do not have appropriate training.
It is all too easy for us to denigrate the abysmal government south of the border...but, fact is, all countries have done wrong things.
Mahindan and his young son are refugees from the violence gripping Sri Lanka. Detained in a Canadian prison, Mahindan must deal with the repeated appearances before an adjudicator as he seeks asylum. Meanwhile, his young son enters the foster system and, over time, begins to assimilate into Canadian life. Priya, a young lawyer and second-generation Canadian, struggles with her conscience. She must choose between pursuing corporate law and her growing appreciation for and understanding of her heritage and the Sri Lankan immigrants. Grace, the Canadian adjudicator who will decide Mahindan’s fate, is a Canadian of Japanese descent. During World War II, her grandparents and their children were confined in one of the camps; her mother still remembers that atrocity. Because her mother never talked about the past, Grace has no concept of the pain and suffering her grandparents and mother endured. Only when her twin daughters begin a research project does the reality of what her mother endured begin to impact Grace’s deliberations.
“The Boat People” highlights important issues that contemporary individuals and governments face. Balancing humanitarian perspectives and national security often presents a choice that officials must make without having the complete background information essential to making that decision. Those who represent immigrants may waiver between their instincts to help and their desire to pursue more lucrative areas of law. Ms. Bala develops her characters in a realistic manner. The growing frustration Mahindan feels as he awaits Grace’s decision; his longing for his son who integrates into Canadian culture while becoming a part of his foster family; and his questioning the impact of past actions on his future draw the reader into Mahindan’s life. Equally compelling is the personal development Priya displays as “The Boat People” moves through the narrative. Only Grace appears not to have altered her opinions and outlook with respect to those seeking asylum. However, her teenage daughters not only begin to understand their grandmother’s past, they seek to learn more.
This is not an easy or entertaining book to read. It presents an excellent representation of the choices and of the decisions that individuals must make. Sharon Bala’s “The Boat People” may be one of the most important books you will read. It is a book that you will not forget.