7 Canadian books to read on World Refugee Day

June 20 is World Refugee Day. If you're looking for a book to help you understand what the refugee experience is like, check out one of these books by great Canadian writers.

June 20 is World Refugee Day. The United Nations created this day to raise awareness about what refugees around the world are facing.

If you're looking for a book to help you understand what the refugee experience is like, check out one of these titles by great Canadian writers.

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

Sharon Bala is the author of The Boat People. (Nadra Ginting/McClelland & Stewart)

In this debut novel, a ship carrying 500 Tamil refugees reaches the shores of British Columbia. A man named Mahindan and his six-year-old son have survived a harrowing journey and hope to start a new life in Canada. But Mahindan is immediately taken to a detention facility and left to wait there as politicians, journalists and the public squabble over his fate — and those who travelled alongside him. The Boat People was defended by Mozhdah Jamalzadah on Canada Reads 2018.

The Boy on the Beach by Tima Kurdi

Tima Kurdi is a spokesperson and the co-founder of the Kurdi Foundation. (Simon & Schuster Canada/Maxine Bulloch)

When a photo of the body of Tima Kurdi's nephew, Alan, washed ashore, Kurdi became a spokesperson for the refugee crisis in Syria. From sharing her own story, growing up in Damascus and emigrating to Canada at 22, Kurdi provides the human side of a story that's dominated the news cycle.

All We Leave Behind by Carol Off

Carol Off is the host of CBC's As It Happens and author of All We Leave Behind. (CBC)

All We Leave Behind is a memoir that outlines CBC Radio host Carol Off's efforts to help bring an Afghan man and his family to Canada. In 2002, Off and a television crew filmed Asad Aryubwal for a documentary about local warlords. Aryubwal was threatened with violence after speaking out and reached out to Off to help protect his family. She spent years trying to bring them to safety in Canada.

Ru by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman

Kim Thúy is the author of Ru. (Benoit Levac/Vintage Canada)

In vignettes that shift back and forth between past and present, Ru tells the story of a young woman forced to leave her Saigon home during the Vietnam War. In spare, luminous prose, Kim Thúy traces the woman's journey from childhood in an affluent Saigon neighbourhood to youth in a crowded Malaysian refugee camp and then to Quebec, where she struggles to fit in — all aspects of the author's own life story.

Ru won Canada Reads 2015, when it was defended by Cameron Bailey. 

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

Lawrence Hill's novel The Book of Negroes was the 2009 Canada Reads champion, and he's back in competition this year with his new novel The Illegal.

Lawrence Hill's The Illegal is a compelling story that examines the plight of refugees who risk everything to start over in a country that doesn't want them. After his father is killed by a dictator's thugs, runner Keita Ali flees his homeland and goes into hiding in a country known as Freedom State, where he is deemed illegal and he must go underground to save his own life.

The Illegal won Canada Reads 2016, when it was defended by Clara Hughes.

The Free World by David Bezmozgis

David Bezmozgis is the author of The Free World. (David Francp/HarperCollins Canada)

In the summer of 1978, Soviet Jews have escaped Russia and are waiting in Italy to be given visas so they can travel to their new home in North America. Over the course of six months, The Free World follows a single family in purgatory as they await their fate and try to pass the time as they don't know what will happen next — or when.

Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee

Kamal Al-Solaylee is the author of Intolerable. (Gary Gould, HarperCollins)

​Part coming-out memoir, part contemporary Middle Eastern history and part cultural analysis, Intolerable is Kamal Al-Solaylee's chronicle of his painful family history. In the book, he describes growing up in the Middle East at a time of enormous political strife and religious intolerance, coming to terms with his identity as a gay man and escaping to get an education and build a life for himself in England and then in Canada. 

Intolerable was defended by Kristin Kreuk on Canada Reads 2015.