Canada Reads

10 books to read if you loved Canada Reads finalist What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

If you have finished reading the novel What Strange Paradise, check out these other great Canadian books.

Tareq Hadhad championed Omar El Akkad's novel on Canada Reads 2022

A man in a long-sleeved black shirt holding a book.
Omar El Akkad is the author of What Strange Paradise. (CBC)

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.

Tareq Hadhad championed What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad on Canada Reads 2022.

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 by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung

Homes is a memoir by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung. (Samuel Sir, Freehand Books, Heiko Ryll)

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.

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.

Homes is a first book by both al Rabeeah and Yeung.

Canada Reads contenders Winnie Yeung & Abu Bakr Al Rabeeah talk to Shelagh Rogers about their book, HOMES: A Refugee Story. (CANADA READS SELECTION)

Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee

A brown book cover featuring a black and white photo of a family.
Kamal Al-Solaylee is the author of Intolerable. (Gary Gould, HarperCollins)

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.

Intolerable was on Canada Reads 2015, when it was defended by actor Kristin Kreuk. It won the 2013 Toronto Book Award, and was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

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 2021Al-Solaylee holds a PhD in English and is the director of the University of British Columbia's school of journalism, writing and media. 

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. It won the 2019 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and 2020 Newfoundland & Labrador Book Award.

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.

Ahmad Danny Ramadan on his novel "The Clothesline Swing," about an elderly gay Syrian refugee trying to keep his partner alive by telling him stories.

Reaching Mithymna by Steven Heighton

A book cover featuring an overhead photo of a beach.
Reaching Mithymna is a book by Steven Heighton. (Mary Huggard, Biblioasis)

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 Latewhich won the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry, and the novels The Nightingale Won't Let You Sleep and Afterlands.

Kim Thuy, the author of "Vi," on her favourite characters in fiction, her greatest fear, and more.

The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan

Ahmad Danny Ramadan is the author of the novel The Clothesline Swing. (, Nightwood Editions)

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.

Tima Kurdi wants refugee crisis support

4 years ago
Duration 11:28
Aunt of drowned Syrian boy says world has grown numb to refugee crisis

Ru by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman

A quietly artistic blue and white book cover.
Kim Thúy is the author of Ru. (Benoit Levac/Vintage Canada)

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 EmVi and Man and the cookbook Secrets from My Vietnamese Kitchen. Her work has been translated into 29 languages.

Lawrence Hill talks about his new novel, which is in the running for Canada Reads 2016.

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)

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.

Novelist Myriam Chancy talks to Eleanor Wachtel about her new book, What Storm, What Thunder. Multilayered and lyrical, it features a variety of inter-connected characters, each with a moving story.

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

A book cover featuring the silhouette of a man running on the top of a hill.
Lawrence Hill is a Canadian novelist, essayist and memoirist. (Wikimedia Commons/HarperCollins)

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. 

The Illegal won Canada Reads 2016. The book was defended by Olympian Clara Hughes. 

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 Harryin 2022. He lives in Hamilton, Ont.

Tareq Hadhad talks to Shelagh Rogers about the book, Peace By Chocolate the book: The Hadhad family's Remarkable Journey from Syria to Canada.

What Storm What Thunder by Myriam J.A. Chancy

What Storm, What Thunder is a novel by Myriam J. A. Chancy. (HarperCollins Canada)

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.

What Storm, What Thunder was longlisted for the 2022 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

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.

Peace by Chocolate by Jon Tattrie

A smiling man standing in front of his family, who are slightly blurred in the background.
Tareq Hadhad and his family are the subject of Jon Tattrie. Tareq Hadhad came to Canada as a Syrian refugee and founded the socially conscious Peace by Chocolate. (Jessica MacAleese)

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.

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