Carol Douglas's Reviews > The Boat People

The Boat People by Sharon Bala
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it was amazing

If you worry about the world's 70 million refugees, you probably will like this fine novel about Tamil boat people who have fled Sri Lanka to go to Canada. The story was inspired by two boats of refugees who came to Canada in 2009 and 2010.

Canadian-born Tamil writer Sharon Bala has studied Sri Lanka's recent history -- and the attitudes of politicians and bureaucrats in Western nations. The Tamils are a large, Hindu minority in Sri Lanka (as well as the majority in one of India's states, Tamil Nadu). After massacres in the late '50s and 1983, they fought to establish their own state in northern Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers were as ruthless as revolutionaries often are. Their persecution by the Buddhist Sinhalese government worsened. The government defeated the Tigers and killed many other Tamils as well.

Bala writes equally well about the life of Tamils herded into camps by the Sinhalese military and about Canadians who are leery of a ship of Tamil refugees that appears off the country's west coast. Her chapters alternate between Mahindan, a refugee who has managed to flee with his six-year-old son, the only member of his family still alive, and Grace, a Canadian of Japanese ancestry who has been appointed an adjudicator of refugee claims though she has no legal background. Grace's aged mother keeps trying to remind her about Canada's detention of Japanese citizens during World War II, but Grace says there's no parallel between that and concerns about allowing terrorists into the country. Another viewpoint character is Priya, a Canadian Tamil law student who wants to go into corporate law but is assigned to help represent the refugees in a pro bono case.

This is a compelling book, the kind that I find it hard to put down. It addresses the questions many of us face today. How will we respond to the refugee crisis?
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Finished Reading
August 19, 2019 – Shelved

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