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The Boat People

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  6,336 ratings  ·  936 reviews
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 m ...more
352 pages
Published January 2018 by Doubleday
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Lara Sallaberger 1. What were the different perspectives people had at Savitri Kumuran’s detention review (ch.16) and on the question of her thali necklace. Describe t…more1. What were the different perspectives people had at Savitri Kumuran’s detention review (ch.16) and on the question of her thali necklace. Describe the different perspectives Mitchell and Grace had (ch.25) on the question of proof and the presumption of honesty in the case.

2. First, describe the moral quandaries that Mahindan found himself in when he lived under LTTE rule (ch.18) and in his effort to escape the country (ch.33– see also ch.15). Second, describe the different perspectives that people had at Mahindan’s detention hearing (ch.24). Third, and in light of the above, how do you interpret Sellian’s petty thefts (ch.32)?

3. Describe the different perspectives and experiences that people had at Hema Sokolingham’s hearing (ch.19). How do you make sense of the fact that Grace was so skeptical of Hema’s story even though she worried that what happened to Hema’s daughters could happen to her own daughters too (ch.20)?

4. Compare the circumstances leading to Mahindan’s departure from Sri Lanka in 2008 and those of Priya’s Uncle Romesh’s departure in 1983. Note growing dangers – and losses -- that forced Mahindan to leave (ch.22) and why, nonetheless, it was still difficult for him to leave (ch.26). Note the similarity in Priya’s uncle’s story (ch.28). What do you make of that similarity?(less)

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Angela M
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 rounded up.

This book tackles a difficult and timely topic based on a true event that occurred in Canada in 2010 with the arrival of a ship from Sri Lanka carrying nearly 500 refugees seeking asylum. This is an important story reflecting on an issue that is front and center right now in countries across the world. Through three alternating narratives, Sharon Bala gives us a view of the complexity of it all - the process, the red tape of the system, the politics, the emotional and gut wrenchi
Diane S ☔
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-read
3.5 The refugee crisis has been prominent in many of our countries, the concern for safety of the current citizens, versus those who are looking for a safe place to land and start over. In this book a ship of Sri Lankan refugees , over five hundred, some women and children, but mainly men, seek sanctuary in Canada. How to rate a book with such a strong political message, where one learns so much about the process these refugees go through when entering a foreign country, and one that does such a ...more
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hard-soft-copy
3.75 stars!

Mahindan is a young father of a six-year-old son who boards a ship with fellow refugees fleeing Sri Lanka’s civil war. They land in Vancouver thinking they are headed to a better life, but they are quickly put in a detention center. There is speculation that there are violent people among the masses responsible for suicide attacks.

The interrogation of the refugees intensifies, and Mahindan worries he and his son may never have freedom due to the choices he made to get them on the shi
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. There are some risks involved in writing fiction based on real events. An author may take liberties for the sake of the story, but then the liberties can be distracting to the reader... The Boat People was mostly good with some distractions.

The Boat People is based on the real story of a boat arriving on the shores of British Columbia in 2010 with around 500 Sri Lankans seeking refugee status: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/MV_Su.... Bala has built a novel around this event by focusi
Kai Spellmeier
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
“Hope was a dangerous thing to lose.”

Sharon Bala's debut novel is a touching and emotional journey from war-torn Sri Lanka all the way to the coast of Canada.

When a refugee boat with over 500 Tamil people arrives after a long and hard trip, their passengers are divided into male and female and taken to prisons for shelter. Here they have to wait and hope not to be sent back, which would mean their deaths. However, the Canadian government won't make it easy for them to set foot on open Canadian
Bren fall in love with the sea.
“Did she now know what it was like to have so little agency? To be faced with such cruel options it was as if there was no choice at all?”
― Sharon Bala, The Boat People

My Review:

Before I even start, I must comment on the exquisite cover art, which is beautiful and perfect for the story itself.

The Boat People is not for the faint of heart, which I kind of am. Though I read many a dark book, this one I had reservations about reading due to what I figured would be the heart breaking content and the
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
We may have all come on different ships but we're in the same boat now. Martin Luther King Jr.
Who leaves their home unless under duress? The place of one's nativity, where one's ancestors are buried, the house that contains so many memories are not given up lightly. To be a refugee, an immigrant, means to be cast off freewheeling into the unknown mists of the future, without mooring or a known destination.

The Boat People is Sharon Bala's debut novel.

Mahindan fled Sri Lanka with his son Sellian w
Jul 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Considering the current crisis at the U.S./Mexico border, with children being separated from parents and asylum seekers being treated like criminals, this seems like a good time to learn what it’s like to be a refugee. Although Bala’s book is set Canada, not the U.S., and her characters are from Sri Lanka, not Mexico and Central America, the themes of the novel felt highly relevant to me. It doesn’t matter what language you speak or what culture you come from, the desperation that comes from lea ...more
The Pfaeffle Journal (Diane)
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
In August 2010, the merchant vessel Sun Sea arrived at Esquimalt naval base in British Columbia, carrying hundreds of Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Sri Lanka had been in a state of civil war for twenty-five years.

Before Sri Lanka gained independence, the British brought in millions of Tamil to work their vast cash crop plantations of coffee, and later of rubber and tea. Colonial officials brought in approximately a million Tamil speakers from India to work as plantation labor. The Sinhalese majorit
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, can-con
Mahindan turned his back to the railing and slid down to sit on the deck. Exhaustion whenever he thought of the future; terror when he remembered the past. He yawned and pressed a cheek to raised knees, then tucked his arms in for warmth. At least here on the boat they were safe from attack. Ruksala, Prem, Chithra's mother and father. The roll call of the dead lulled him to sleep.

The Boat People means well – invoking the real life story of the MV Sun Sea (a cargo ship that arrived in Vancouv
"We may have all come on different ships,
but we're in the same boat now. "
-Martin Luther King Jr.

THE BOAT PEOPLE by Sharon Bala was inspired by the arrival of the Ocean Lady and the MV Sun Sea on the coast of British Columbia in October 2009 and August 2010, bearing together just over 550 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. Although THE BOAT PEOPLE is a work of fiction, many of the circumstances depicted in both Sri Lanka and Canada are based in fact.

I love it when I learn from the books I read.
Kate Olson
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There are certain books that enter into our lives for a purpose, and this is one of those books for me. This heartbreaking look at the refugee crisis in general, and specifically that of Sri Lankan refugees being detained in Canada, was an educationally rich experience for me, and one that pushed a critical issue back into the front of my mind. Through Bala's characters, readers are presented with complex philosophical and political issues in a thought-provoking format that makes even the most k ...more
I was surprised by this book. It is a work of fiction concerning the Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka that immigrated by ship to Canada. It is apparent the author researched the subject extensively and created a great story. I knew nothing about the subject before reading this book. The thing I most enjoyed about this book is that the author didn't choose a "side". She presented everyone's point of view and did a great job of illustrating that immigration issues aren't as black and white as one mig ...more
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
OUTSTANDING!!! Beautifully told, refreshing writing. This transpires along Canada's border, but the timely relevance to current American headlines is UNCANNY. And to finish this on our Independence Day is quite moving. What a gift this author has given us. And it's her debut! BRAVA. ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
3 stars-Thank you to Keep Turing Pages and Doubleday for the chance to read and review this book.

This book would have been a 4 star book for me had the author added the needed quotation marks to her story. However, since I find the lack of quotation marks to be interrupting and annoying while reading a novel, I will automatically deduct one star from the review.

The premise of this story is very much in the current headlines today. Immigration is a well written and thoroughly discussed topic. B
Jan 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed-bookbag
Based on a real-life refugee crisis that hit Canada in 2009, Bala’s debut novel illuminates all sides of the issue by focusing on a father and son who travel from Sri Lanka to Vancouver Island by boat, their lawyers, and the Japanese-Canadian adjudicator who is to decide on their case. The message about the necessity of compassion might not be very subtle, but it’s an important one given the plight of refugees around the world today. There is always a danger of history repeating itself, but gett ...more
Allison ༻hikes the bookwoods༺
The Canada Reads theme this year is one book to open your eyes and that’s exactly how I feel about The Boat People. The book illustrates how most Canadians (excepting only indigenous people) are immigrants. It doesn’t matter that my ancestors came here three hundred years ago, they were once immigrants too. The refugee process is so arbitrary in this country and The Boat People certainly opened my eyes to that.
Patrice Hoffman
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Boat People by Sharon Bala might best be reviewed after tonight's State of the Union address... The Boat People tells the story of immigration from three different viewpoints... VERY different viewpoints. There's no denying the political message behind this read, but instead of focusing there, I'll begin with a good ol' simple review.

For me, the most prolific character was Mahindan. He arrives to Canada's shores with his 6 year old son with the hopes of beginning a new life. He and the othe
In October 2009 and August 2010, the Ocean Lady and the MV Sun Sea, two ships bearing together just over 550 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, arrived in British Columbia. Those vessels and their passengers were the inspiration for this novel.

Bala insists that all characters in this book are fictional. Very little is known about the actual Tamil refugees. Bala made these characters up based on the little information she COULD find out.

The book addresses some real and important issues: refugees and
Danielle Tremblay
I received this novel by GoodReads giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

I will not summarize this story, but you can read an excellent one written by Nancy here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Warsan Shire, the British-Somali poet wrote:
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

Sharon Bala won the Journey Prize for her novel whose central portion takes place on the Pacific Ocean between Sri Lanka and Vancouver, British Colum
When a cargo ship carrying several hundred Sri Lankan refugees arrives off the coast of Vancouver, those aboard hope for a new beginning in Canada. The problem? You just can’t walk into the country (or sail in for that matter). There’s a long, drawn out process in claiming refugee status and it doesn’t always work out for those in need. In The Boat People, author Sharon Bala takes inspiration from a real life incident in 2010 to shine a light on that very process spotlighting the refugees, the i ...more
Brooke — brooklynnnnereads
This was such an in-depth and emotional behind the scenes look at immigration and those who are refugees.

An especially important novel in this current political climate; however, I think this novel will important regardless of the year.

This story follows multiple points of view from the individual refugee to the person assisting in making the decision on whether they stay in the country or not.

I definitely recommend this novel as it’s eye opening, thought provoking, and important. I know it’s
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: canadian-author
I loved so many things about this book. Mostly I liked how it showed how complicated immigration issues can be and that there are no black and white answers to some difficult questions. I also felt it exposed how those who gain a position by political patronage are not always qualified to make the significant decisions they are tasked with.

I have read 4 of the 5 contenders for Canada Reads (still need to read Forgiveness), but so far this is the one I will be rooting for
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, yes, and this book does a fine job of illustrating the complexities of leaving your home country in the wake of war. It also shines a strong light on the outrageous impossibility of the resultant jobs of people like immigration officers who are left to interpret and judge those complexities.

Are our immigration people prepared enough, educated enough? How can they possibly be able to eek out any clear pictures in these wild refugee stories/realities? The confusing reality of these roles of
A ‘wrenched from the headlines’ novel about a boatload of migrants that arrives in Vancouver from Sri Lanka. Bala writes from a variety of perspectives to show the experiences of a Tamil father separated from his young son by immigration detention, a young lawyer who gradually becomes invested in the migrants’ fate and in her own family background, and an Immigration and Refugee Board member anxious not to inadvertently admit a terrorist. Some of it was a bit simplistic and but it was a good, th ...more
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canlit, 2018
The Boat People is a really impressive debut novel by Sharon Bala, Based on real events that took place in the early 00s, the book explores the social and emotional issues related to accepting refugees from war-torn Sri Lanka into Canada. She tells the story through the eyes of several characters, including Mahindan, a widowed Tamil father; Priya, a young Canadian law student with a Tamil background; and Grace, an adjudicator whose mother and grandparents were sent to a Japanese internment camp ...more
Rachel Stansel
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Boat People is the fictional story of one man and his son's experience fleeing Sri Lanka. In addition to his experience, we follow a young lawyer and one of the governmental employees assigned to determine who stays in Canada and who is to be deported. I knew nothing about the history of the Tamil people and the plight of those who attempted to flee not just to Canada but to Australia. In the looming fear of terrorism, the determination of who stays and who is returned to almost certain deat ...more
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Seriously? Thats how it ends??? I need like 50 more pages.

But all jokes aside this book is beautifully written with a heart wrenching story that is relevant to today. The fact that a lot of this book is set in Vancouver, BC brings a familiar feeling to the story that I long for in books these days. I am no longer interested in books set in the US, I would rather read about my own country, and The Boat People really hits home that Canada has its own problems with systematic racism. This story may
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
(This review was originally published in the Sri Lankan Anchorman newspaper - May 2019 edition)

A chilling tale that pits a black & white refugee determining process against the nuances of war, where civilians are trapped in the middle, not knowing that the decisions they make for self-preservation in their war ravaged homeland can make them inadmissible in the land they have fled to.

Based on a true incident, 500 Sri Lankan refugees arrive off the coast of Vancouver in a leaky ship and seek asylu
Aug 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Such a thought provoking and nuanced “issues” novel. I really enjoyed all three narrative voices and thought they all equally blended to give a full picture of the issues involved. I was slightly annoyed by the lack of quotation marks - usually a dealbreaker - but it was pretty easy to follow the dialogue. My only real complaint about this one is the stinkin’ ending!!!
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Sharon Bala is trapped on a rock in the cold North Atlantic. Please send mangoes.

Her debut novel, The Boat People, was published by McClelland & Stewart and Doubleday US in January, 2018. The manuscript won the Percy Janes First Novel Award (May 2015) and was short listed for the Fresh Fish Award (October 2015).

In 2017, she won the Journey Prize and had a second story long-listed in the anthology

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