10 books to read if you loved Canada Reads finalist What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad
Tareq Hadhad championed Omar El Akkad's novel on Canada Reads 2022
The great Canadian book debate has come to an end for another year. What should you read next? CBC Books has some ideas for you.
The novel What Strange Paradise opens on a tragic scene on a beach: a nine-year-old Syrian boy named Amir wakes up surrounded by bodies and debris from a shipwreck. Amir is a refugee and the only person to survive the dangerous voyage across the sea. Seeing masked men, Amir runs away and meets a local teenage girl named Vanna, who hides him.
What Strange Paradise opens a window into the experience of refugees and examines the courage it takes to flee and seek refuge in hostile lands.
If you have finished What Strange Paradise and are looking for a new read, check out these Canadian books that explore similar themes — including migration, racism, classism and empathy.
Homes is a memoir of Abu Bakr al Rabeeah's childhood in Iraq and Syria. Just before civil war broke out, the al Rabeeah family left Iraq for safety in Homs, Syria. al Rabeeah was 10 years old when the violence began in his new home. He remembers attacks on his mosque and school, car bombings and firebombs. As a high school student in Edmonton, al Rabeeah shared his story with his teacher and writer Winnie Yeung in hopes it will bring greater understanding of Syria.
- Abu Bakr al Rabeeah, teenage refugee from Syria, tells his story with help from his teacher Winnie Yeung
Homes was defended on Canada Reads 2019 by Simple Plan drummer Chuck Comeau. It was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction and 2018 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.
Kamal Al-Solaylee's memoir documents his painful family history and what it was like growing up in the Middle East during political and religious turmoil. Intolerable follows his escape to England and then Canada, in pursuit of education and the desire to build a life for himself as a gay man.
Al-Solaylee is an award-winning journalist and author. His other works include the nonfiction books Brown, winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, and Return, published in 2021. Al-Solaylee holds a PhD in English and is the director of the University of British Columbia's school of journalism, writing and media.
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.
Sharon Bala is a novelist and short story writer. Born in Dubai, she currently lives in St. John's. The Boat People is her first novel. She won the Journey Prize for best short story published in a literary magazine in 2017.
In 2015, writer Steven Heighton made a sudden decision: he would travel to Greece and volunteer at the frontlines of the Syrian refugee crisis. Once there, he found himself working in a transit camp offering support to refugees who recently made the harrowing journey across the sea from Turkey, and alongside the refugees and the aid workers stationed there, finds himself overwhelmed. Heighton shares this story in the memoir Reaching Mithymna.
Reaching Mithymna was on the shortlist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
Heighton is a novelist, short story writer and poet from Toronto. His other books include the poetry collection The Waking Comes Late, which won the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry, and the novels The Nightingale Won't Let You Sleep and Afterlands.
In The Clothesline Swing, Hakawati, a storyteller, prolongs the life of his dying partner by telling story after story about his childhood in Damascus. Death joins the couple, eavesdropping on the series of cruel events that have brought Hakawati to love and to Vancouver.
Ahmad Danny Ramadan is a Syrian-Canadian author, award-winning activist and public speaker. Through his activism, he has created a safe passage for many Syrian LGBTQ-refugees to Canada. He is also the author of the children's book Salma the Syrian Chef.
In vignettes that shift back and forth between past and present, the novel 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 original French edition won the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction, while the translated novel was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Thúy was born in Saigon, left Vietnam at the age of 10 and moved to Quebec with her family where she now lives. She is also the author of the novels Em, Vi and Man and the cookbook Secrets from My Vietnamese Kitchen. Her work has been translated into 29 languages.
Tima Kurdi is the aunt of Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian toddler whose body washed up on the Turkish shoreline after he and his family fled the Syrian War. A photo of Alan went viral and Tima, who was living in Canada, became a spokesperson for the Syrian refugee crisis.
In her memoir, The Boy on the Beach, Kurdi shares her own story. She grew up in Damascus and emigrated to Canada at 22. The Syrian war and the death of Alan had a profound effect on her and her family. Kurdi now lives in Coquitlam, B.C.
The Illegal examines the plight of refugees who risk everything to start over in a country that doesn't want them. After his father is killed, runner Keita Ali flees his homeland to a country known as Freedom State, where his presence is illegal and he must go underground to survive.
Lawrence Hill is the author of several books, including the novel The Book of Negroes, which won Canada Reads in 2009 and was adapted into a six-part miniseries for CBC. He is also the author of the nonfiction books Black Berry, Sweet Juice and Blood. Hill published his first book for children, a middle grade novel called Beatrice and Croc Harry, in 2022. He lives in Hamilton, Ont.
As markets and businesses begin to close for the evening at the end of a long, sweltering day, a huge earthquake shakes the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. What Storm, What Thunder is a novel that follows 10 survivors as they grapple with the permanent life-altering effects of the earthquake.
Myriam J. A. Chancy is the author of four novels and four books of literary criticism. Her novel The Loneliness of Angels won the Guyana Prize for Literature Caribbean Award in 2011 and was shortlisted for the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize in Caribbean Literature for fiction. Chancy was raised in Haiti and Canada and now resides in the U.S.
When Tareq Hadhad's family came to a small town in Nova Scotia as refugees in 2015, they weren't sure how they were going to support themselves. Hadhad's father had been a chocolate maker in Syria, and so Hadhad convinced his dad to make chocolate again, this time in their tiny Antigonish kitchen. That enterprise grew into a large-scale chocolate company, Peace by Chocolate, and the family inspired Canadians across the country. In Peace by Chocolate, CBC journalist Jon Tattrie shares this inspiring story, and the family's message of the power of community and positivity.
Hadhad championed Omar El Akkad's What Strange Paradise on Canada Reads in 2022. He is also a keynote speaker who talks about his family's story about the positive impact of Syrian newcomers and the spirit of entrepreneurship.
Tattrie is a journalist with CBC News, currently based in Nova Scotia. He is also the author of two novels, Black Snow and Limerence, and several other nonfiction books.