The Current

ENCORE: 3 novelists humanize the refugee experience in powerful fiction

Amidst the real-life stories of so many refugees fleeing war and persecution, we speak with Canadian novelists Lawrence Hill, Tasneem Jamal and Kim Thuy on how the portrayal of refugees in fiction can help us put a human face to the migrant crisis.
Lawrence Hill's books include "Illegal;" Tasneem Jamal is the author of "Where the Air is Sweet," and Kim Thuy is the author of "Ru." Their stories talk about family, fear, flight and freedom. (CBC/

Uganda, 1972. 

President for Life, Idi Amin.

Four decades ago, more than 60,000 Asian men, women and children were driven out of Uganda by the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. It was the only country many of them had ever known.

While their flight was tragic, and unique in its way, it was also just one in a long human history of forced migrations caused by war and persecution.

The news has been full of stories from the latest chapter in that history: stories of those fleeing war in Syria, looking for refuge in Europe and the Middle East. 

Today we wanted to look at that all-too-human experience of being a refugee with three authors who have grappled with it in their literature. Because it's in novels that we often unlock the insights that truly make sense of the world around us.     

  • Tasneem Jamal is the author of "Where the Air is Sweet," and she was in Toronto.   
  • Lawrence Hill, best known as the author of "The Book of Negroes," takes a close look at what it is like to be a refugee in his new book "The Illegal." He was in Hamilton, Ontario. 
  • Kim Thuy's book "Ru" won the 2010 Governor General's award for French language fiction. Ru also won the 2015 Canada Reads competition. She was in Montreal.
​If any of these books -- or any other literature you've read about the refugee experience -- have helped to deepen your understanding, we'd like to hear from you.

And if you have your own story of life as a refugee, has any literature on the subject resonated with you?

Send us an email, post on Facebook or tweet us @TheCurrentCBC.

This segment originally aired in November and was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.

The rapper, singer, and producer M.I.A. was a refugee.  At the age of 9, her family fled violence in Sri Lanka for the U.K., where she grew up. And that experience has been central to her art through the years. 

Much of her output as a musician has been politically charged, and that's true of her new single, "Borders."  The song was released last month, together with a video that humanizes the refugee experience.