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Refugee Week 2021 – Books

Books can open other worlds, can give us a greater understanding of the experiences of others. Last year we linked to the ‘Refugee Week’ recommended books (see post ‘Refugee Week 2020: Books, Films, Performance’ on the news page). This year we are linking to the National City of Sanctuary website to show their booklist:

Between the two lists there are many books so we have asked our members to write a short review of books they have read which we hope you will find useful.



‘The Journey’ – Francesca Sanna. 

I really enjoyed reading The Journey. The story is about a family who had to leave their country when the father was killed in the war. The story is told from the view of a child. The family have to get across mountains and rivers and borders. Some parts are scary and some are happy. I liked this story because it is happy, scary and sad. I liked that they actually found safety in the end.

By Jonah, age 9


‘The Lightless Sky – My Journey to Safety as a Child Refugee’  by Gulwali Passarlay, translated by Nadine Ghouri

In 2006 at the age of 12, Gulwali Passarlay began a year long journey from Afghanistan to the UK. This book tells of the pressures that forced his desperate mother to set this in motion, the harsh reality of the journey and the trafficking system that enabled it. It also recounts the difficulties encountered once reaching the UK. Accessibly written, it tells the true story of one unaccompanied child trying to find safety but vulnerable to the whims of both State and traffickers, and of the lasting scars caused by these experiences. It is a story of inhumanity on one hand and of anxiety, fear, determination and resilience on the other.

No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani, translated by Amid Tofighian

Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish journalist who left Iran in 2013 attempting to seek asylum in Australia. At this time, the Australian government had just announced that all unauthorised boat arrivals would be transferred to Manus Island and, even if granted asylum, would not be allowed into Australia but would have to stay in Papua New Guinea. Behrouz was taken to Manus and this book results from texts and messages sent from there over a 5/6 year period.

Despite its contents, this book is beautifully written. Starting with a harrowing account of his near drowning whilst being smuggled from Indonesia, the book then moves to describe life in the detention centre. Part journalistic reporting, part analytical comment and part poetic escape, the book looks at the effect living in inhuman conditions has on vulnerable people and the system which supports this. The examination of the Australian system in this book makes this is a prescient read in light the UK government’s reported thoughts on asylum.

The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri

Dina Nayeri was forced to leave Iran with her mother and brother in 1988. Two years later she was granted asylum in America and then became an American citizen in 1994. She later lived in both Amsterdam and UK. More recently she visited asylum seekers and refugees to tell their stories ‘because the world is turning its back on refugees…. nations have abandoned duty in favour of entitlement and tribal instinct.’ This book interweaves these stories with her own and examines what is demanded of those seeking sanctuary both in their applications for asylum and in the way they are expected to live their lives. It points out the concepts of the deserving and undeserving refugee, how individuals have to earn the right to be believed, have to be assimilated, grateful and prove to be a ‘good investment’. In the authors words ‘is the life of happy mediocrity a privilege reserved for those who never stray from home?’.

The Cellist of Sarajevo

This book is not directly about those seeking sanctuary but is about a conflict which caused the largest displacement of people in Europe since the 2ndWorld War. The book tells of the brutal Siege of Sarajevo in Bosnia which lasted from 1992 to 1996. The story is told through the lives of 4 people and describes the deprivations of siege warfare but also discusses the universal themes of retaining, or regaining, humanity in a war situation. Although 2 of the characters in the book are based on real people this is a work of fiction.


A long petal of the sea by Isabel Allende 

This story by acclaimed writer Isabel Allende could be said to be a love story in the genre of historical fiction but it is also a story of exile and of being a refugee. It is a work of fiction but coloured by the authors own experience of the being a refugee ( in Venezuela following the military coup against her relative, President Allende of Chile) and of being an immigrant to the United States. Additionally many of the characters in the book are based on real people,often known to the author.

The book details the history of refugees fleeing Franco’s Spain and arriving in an unwelcoming France; those leaving the camps in France for Chile and then, from there, those exiled to Venezuela after the coup in Chilie. It looks at the idea of ‘home’ and belonging; how one can be a pawn in a political landscape; how being a refugee impacts on generational relationships;and, of course, love in all its many forms.