Canada Reads 2018

The Boat People

Canadian hospitality towards refugees comes under scrutiny in novelist Sharon Bala's debut The Boat People.

Sharon Bala

The Boat People by Sharon Bala was defended by Mozhdah Jamalzadah on Canada Reads 2018. The winner of Canada Reads 2018 was Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto, which was defended by Jeanne Beker.

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 infamous for suicide attacks. 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. (From McClelland & Stewart)

Book trailer | Read an excerpt | Panellist interviews | Author interviews

Watch the book trailer

Canada Reads trailer for Sharon Bala's The Boat People. 0:46

From the book

Mahindan was flat on his back when the screaming began, one arm right-angled over his eyes. He heard the whistle and thud of falling artillery, the cries of the dying. Mortar shells and rockets, the whole world on fire. 

Then another sound. It cut through the clamor so that for a drawn-out second there was nothing else, only him and his son and the bomb that arched through the sky with a shrill banshee scream, spinning nose aimed straight for them. Mahindan fought to open his eyes. His limbs were pinned down and heavy. He struggled to move, to call out in terror, to clamber and run. The ground rumbled. The shell exploded, shard of hot metal spitting in its wake. The tent was rent in helf. Mahindan jolted awake.


From The Boat People by Sharon Bala ©2018. Published by McClelland & Stewart.

Panellist interviews

Singer Mozhdah Jamalzadah shares why she chose to champion The Boat People by Sharon Bala in this year's battle of the books. 8:18
This morning is a big day for books in Canada — it's the day that we get to find out this year's panellists and their book choices for Canada Reads 2018. This year's battle of the books will revolve around the theme "One Book to Open Your Eyes," celebrating titles that challenge readers to look differently at themselves, their neighbours and the world around them. All five of the panellists — Jully Black, Mozhdah Jamalzadah, Tahmoh Penikett, Greg Johnson, Jeanne Beker — join guest host Laurie Brown in the q studio to reveal their choices for the book they think all Canadians should read. 14:24
The Canada Reads defenders and authors took the stage in Toronto to discuss the five books that will be championed on CBC's battle of the books from March 26-29, 2018. Here and Now's Gill Deacon hosted the event in the Glenn Gould Studio. 1:07:45

Author interviews

Award-winning writer Sharon Bala's debut novel, The Boat People, is about a group of about 500 Sri Lankan refugees who arrive in Canada only to face deportation and accusations of terrorism. 27:53
Sharon Bala on her debut novel, which is in the running for Canada Reads 2018, and gives an inside look at what it's like to be an asylum seeker in Canada. 14:46

The Canada Reads 2018 contenders

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