The Boat People

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A gut-wrenching and horrifying look at the atrocity of war, the insidiousness of intolerance, and the frailty of human life, this beautifully-written book is both a compassionate plea and a not-too-gentle reminder of the capriciousness of power.

Told from the 3rd person POV perspective of three main protagonists, this brilliantly evocative story tells the tale of Mahindan and his six year old son Sellian, Tamil survivors of the decades-long Sri-Lankan conflict, who find their way to Canada as illegal passengers (along with 500 fellow citizens) on a converted tanker bound for Vancouver – refugees seeking solace on Canadian soil.

As Priya Rajasekaran , an articling student of Sri Lankan descent, (our second 3rd person POV narrator) is drawn into the complex and emotional ensuing legal battle, her neatly-planned legal career is thrown into disarray as her plight, and that of the refugees, intertwine, long-held secrets within her own immediate family now threatening to erupt.

Both Priya and Mahindan must rely on the goodwill rulings of Grace Nakamura, a new adjudicator who has been appointed to the Immigration and Refugee Board (our third and final narrator). Of Japanese descent, with her own familial history of persecution and internment, Grace is a largely unsympathetic character, whose attempts to codify her judgements lack compassion, balance or a sincere attempt to contextualize.

A fascinating, poignant and thoughtful look at morality and survival and the futility of any attempt to separate the two – as, with incredible insight, the author examines two groups of “survivors” and their moral imperatives – those fighting for their lives, and those at the other end of the spectrum, in a position of power, with the unrestrained ability to exercise or withhold compassion.

How far would you go, outside the lines of what you might conventionally think of as “right”, when your life, or the life of your loved ones is on the line?

Just how malleable can compassion, empathy and morality become when fear and prejudice threaten?

Without giving the plot away (no spoilers here), you will need to read this brilliant book to find out more.

A #bookclub selection for one of my book clubs, this story sparked lively debate and is highly recommended.

@historicalfiction @sharonBala @penguinrandomhousecanada #greatreads


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