The Boat People: Book summary and reviews of The Boat People by Sharon Bala

The Boat People

by Sharon Bala

The Boat People by Sharon Bala X
The Boat People by Sharon Bala
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2018
    352 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

For readers of Khaled Hosseini and Chris Cleave, The Boat People is an extraordinary novel about a group of refugees who survive a perilous ocean voyage only to face the threat of deportation amid accusations of terrorism.

When a rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees from Sri Lanka's bloody civil war reaches Vancouver's shores, the young father thinks he and his six-year-old son can finally start a new life. Instead, the group is thrown into a detention processing center, with government officials and news headlines speculating that among the "boat people" are members of a separatist militant organization responsible for countless suicide attacks—and that these terrorists now pose a threat to Canada's national security. As the refugees become subject to heavy interrogation, Mahindan begins to fear that a desperate act taken in Sri Lanka to fund their escape may now jeopardize his and his son's chance for asylum.

Told through the alternating perspectives of Mahindan; his lawyer, Priya, a second-generation Sri Lankan Canadian who reluctantly represents the refugees; and Grace, a third-generation Japanese Canadian adjudicator who must decide Mahindan's fate as evidence mounts against him, The Boat People is a spellbinding and timely novel that provokes a deeply compassionate lens through which to view the current refugee crisis.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"This is a powerful debut." - Publishers Weekly

"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." - Booklist

"A strong premise runs aground trying to form a set of convictions into a novel." - Kirkus

"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 ... This is a brilliant debut – a story that needs to be told, told beautifully." - Omar El Akkad, author of American War

"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 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

"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." - Michel Stone, author of Border Child

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Author Information

Sharon Bala

Sharon Bala is a member of the Port Authority writing group and her short fiction has been published in several Canadian magazines. The Boat People is her debut novel.

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