How Sharon Bala's The Boat People brought together people from around the world for an event in Newfoundland
Sharon Bala witnessed exactly how far stories travel at a recent book reading in St. John's, N.L. Her Canada Reads-shortlisted novel The Boat People tells of the arrival of a boat carrying Sri Lankan refugees to the shores of B.C. This human drama resonated with audiences and speakers at the Feb. 20 event hosted by Weekend AM's Heather Barrett.
Bala shared passages from her book and the research behind it with the 135 attendees at the Association of New Canadians (ANC). After hearing about the protagonist's struggle to obtain refugee status in Canada, ANC students shared their personal stories of arrival in the country.
Former refugees from Congo, Syria and Sudan explained what adjusting to life in Atlantic Canada entailed for their families and careers. Luham Mehsonte's journey began when she relocated to N.L. In the two years since she left Sudan, Mehsonte told the audience that she learned to speak English and used that knowledge to receive a full scholarship to study nursing at Memorial University.
Similar stories of perseverance echoed through the conversations around Bala's novel. The positivity of these narratives resonated with the author of The Boat People as she reflected, "One of the [new immigrants] who were speaking here said, 'You have come to a good country,' and it's true, in this moment right now, it is a good country."
The gathering at the ANC in St. John's was part of the Canada Reads regional events celebrating the shortlisted books throughout February and March. The Canada Reads debates take place March 26-29, 2018 and will be hosted by Ali Hassan. Bala's debut novel will be defended on the battle of the books by singer Mozhdah Jamalzadah.
— With files from Andrew Sampson and Heather Barrett