British Columbia

Stories from abroad: 4 books by B.C. authors on the immigrant experience

On The Coast book columnist Tara Henley gives her four picks for stories from B.C. authors that offer a window into the immigrant experience.

'Stories have a profound power to humanize and to bring people together,' says books columnist Tara Henley

Ahmad Danny Ramadan is the author of The Clothesline Swing. (Mike Carter/Harbour Publishing)

With anti-immigrant sentiment south of the border, there's no better time to appreciate the literary contributions of Vancouver's newcomer communities, says On The Coast books columnist Tara Henley. 

"Stories have a profound power to humanize and to bring people together," Henley told guest host Gloria Macarenko.

Among those contributors is Ahmad Danny Ramadan, a Syrian refugee who sought asylum in Vancouver in 2014. He's a journalist and fiction writer, and previously published books in Arabic.

Henley recently dove into Ramadan's English-language debut, The Clothesline Swing, and spoke with him about the book.

"He told me that he was intent on writing against the grain here, reframing the refugee narrative from trauma and violence and homophobia, to one of hope and joy and human resilience," she said.

"It's important to him that we don't view Syrian refugees as victims in need of charity, but as members of our society who have so much to contribute."

Here are Henley's top four picks for stories that offer a window into the immigrant experience.

Listen to the full interview with Tara Henley. 

The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan

"It's a gay love story, set between war-torn Damascus and Vancouver's West End. The writing is lovely: it's poetic, lush, lyrical, and rich with magic realism. And the central relationship is breathtakingly tender. The book also really brings old Damascus to life, with its jasmine blooms and twinkling mosque lights."

Dragon Springs by Janie Chang

"Janie Chang is an author who was born in Taiwan, and lived in the Philippines, Iran and Thailand before making her home in Vancouver. Her second novel is set in the early 1900's in Shanghai. It follows a mixed-race child, Jailing, the daughter of a prostitute, who's abandoned and then adopted by a well-to-do family as a bond servant. As she grows from a child to a young woman, her constant companion is a fox spirit. It's a mother-daughter saga, a historical novel and a coming-of-age tale. A truly delightful book."

Someone You Love is Gone by Gurjinder Basran

"Basran grew up Indo-Canadian in Delta, B.C., and her work centres on this experience of navigating two cultures. The novel's main character is Simran, a middle-aged woman who's mourning the death of her mother. In the course of setting her mother's affairs in order, she's haunted by her mother's ghost, and becomes intent on unravelling the story of her past, which stretches back to a small village in India. The book is heart-wrenching, wonderfully written, and an exploration of how family history and trauma are transferred from one generation to the next."

Wherever I Find Myself: Stories by Canadian Immigrant Women from Caitlin Press

"Caitlin Press is based in Halfmoon Bay on the Sunshine Coast, and they publish work by and about B.C. women. Their latest title is a collection of 'portraits of women attempting to navigate unfamiliar landscapes, and their desire to be accepted despite differences in accent, sexuality, skin colour, or taste in food.' All of the stories look at how the author's personal histories bring them closer to, or farther away from, a feeling of belonging."

With files from CBC's On The Coast