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The Boat People

Written by: Sharon Bala
Narrated by: Athena Karkanis
Length: 13 hrs and 23 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (167 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

By the winner of The Journey Prize, and inspired by a real incident, The Boat People is a gripping and morally complex novel about a group of refugees who survive a perilous ocean voyage to reach Canada - only to face the threat of deportation and accusations of terrorism in their new land.

When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and 500 fellow refugees reaches the shores of British Columbia, the young father is overcome with relief: he and his six-year-old son can finally put Sri Lanka's bloody civil war behind them and begin new lives. Instead, the group is thrown into prison, with government officials and news headlines speculating that hidden among the "boat people" are members of a terrorist militia. As suspicion swirls and interrogation mounts, Mahindan fears the desperate actions he took to survive and escape Sri Lanka now jeopardize his and his son's chances for asylum.

Told through the alternating perspectives of Mahindan; his lawyer Priya, who reluctantly represents the migrants; and Grace, a third-generation Japanese-Canadian adjudicator who must decide Mahindan's fate, The Boat People is a high-stakes novel that offers a deeply compassionate lens through which to view the current refugee crisis. Inspired by real events, with vivid scenes that move between the eerie beauty of northern Sri Lanka and combative refugee hearings in Vancouver, where life and death decisions are made, Sharon Bala's stunning debut is an unforgettable and necessary story for our times.

©2018 Sharon Bala (P)2018 McClelland & Stewart

What the critics say

" 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 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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • A.B
  • 2018-02-04

Fantastic!

The Boat People is a fascinating and thought provoking story. It’s changed the way I see migrants and the legal process they must go through to be admitted into Canada. More than this, it could be any refugee’s story and, as such, is an extremely compelling read (or listen as the case may be) The author weaves this haunting, tragic tale, albeit shocking at times and often disturbing. She has done her research well and paints a vivid picture.
I was completely engrossed in the audio version and couldn’t wait to continue listening and finish the book.
Ms Karkanis does an incredible job as narrator, giving the characters accents and changing her voice with such ease in amongst all the book’s dialogue. She really made it easy to listen to and follow. Don’t be fooled by the meager audio sample- she is a brilliant narrator who brought the book to life.
I would highly recommend this book.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • CRA
  • 2019-06-15

Disappointing ending

Lovely story, but ending was awful. I expected more. Such a shame. It could have been better.

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Important story

Really enjoyed the story - very timely and important to remind ourselves of what the individual stories of immigrant are, and the endless bureaucratic challenges involved in coming to new countries, some more challenging than others. My only real issue is with the accents - they feel a bit racist? I don’t know how to explain - it feels very jarring to listen to a white person do a South Asian accent and it made me uncomfortable. Also apparently all men sound the same and have the same affect? Lol ok.

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Interestingly Different

The novel was great overall. The multiple points of views was definitely an interesting take which lead me to always be on the edge of my seat and wonder what was going to happen next regardless of the character.

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Ending was disappointing

Too many loose threads that don't get tied up. I think this is a stylistic choice on behalf of the author, but I was so invested in this story that I am sad to feel like there's so much missing from the ending. I did enjoy it up to the end, and the narration was amazing!

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Powerful, thought-provoking, brilliantly narrated

Sharon Bala's The Boat People puts you in the shoes of Mahindan, a Tamil refugee father fleeing to Canada with his young son, a young woman articling student of Tamil descent who's pulled into defending the migrants, and a Japanese-Canadian Conservative hack who gets more than she bargains for when she accepts a political appointment to adjudicate refugee claims. Through the book we see each character making tough choices and weighing competing motivations, with Mahindan's journey at the heart of the story.

This book gives the reader a powerful and invaluable opportunity to understand the impossible choices a refugee may have to make just in order to survive, and to reconsider the choices we might make were we in the shoes of the adjudicator. It's an opportunity to consider Canada's historic racism and its parallels in our immigration system today.

Athena Karkanis does an amazing job narrating the audiobook version, respectfully voicing characters from a range of different backgrounds.

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Relevant topic around the world.

A lot of attention is placed on the horrific conditions at the Mexican/ US border. It’s easy to overlook what is going on in you’re own country.
As a Canadian, I am well aware that we have a responsibility to help those who need safe refuge. In general I think Canada does a good job, that being said, this book details the harrowing stories that do happen. It gives insight on how we can fail vulnerable people. This book put a face and a heart to those that were victimized by the system. Everyone has a story. They are not just people on a boat.

#Audible1

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Very interesting!

A great read that gives the reader insight into what refugees go through in order to start a new life. #Audible1

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Loved this book!

I so loved this book! It elicited so many emotions! There were times when I actually wept in horror. The characters were so well developed that I hated to say goodbye when the book ended. In fact, I didn't want the book to end! #Audible1

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#Audible1<br /><br />The Boat People

#Audible1

I wanted more.. 😞Hopefully one day there could be a continuation of this book! I would like to follow through with the families introduced throughout this audio book! 😮

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  • Kara
  • 2018-08-23

great book

I loved this book. it certainly made me think about current issues concerning immigration and their fight for freedom.

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  • Neil D.
  • 2018-08-07

A moving story, enhanced greatly by a terrific narration

I really loved this book. Anyone open to a different take on the subject of immigration will find this story compelling. Being blessed to have been born in a free country, this book was very humbling. And the narration by Athena Karkanis was just outstanding.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2018-02-01

Cad immigration past & president wrapped in prose

amazing story reflecting the layered history of Canadian immigration with a dash of current day news, emotion, opinions & prejudice.