Inspired by true events, Sharon Bala’s multifaceted debut novel is not only about a group of 500 Sri Lankan refugees, the titular “boat people,” but also about the people they left behind and those who will decide their fates upon arriving in 2009 Vancouver ... Bala moves fluidly from past to present, mixing memories with current crises ... The Boat People reminds us of the fragile nature of truth.
Bala is particularly fond of the diminutive, the “small” of things, hands, wounded children — all designed to elicit sympathy. Stock characters crowd the narrative ... The author plays with time through flashbacks told in the present tense, an innovative approach well suited to capturing the upside-down nature of refugee narratives. With a treasure trove of material — what can’t a writer do with a boatload of refugees? — it is mystifying that Bala has chosen to ignore the obvious: letting us see the refugees as perfect in their imperfections rather than rendered as pawns in this political narrative, just as they were trapped in a war not of their choosing.
As immigration debates swirl in Congress and refugees swarm across borders around the globe, a timely and engaging book humanizes the polarizing political debates ... a provocative debut novel ... in telling his story, Bala faithfully re-creates the painful processes and indignities that the real-life Tamils endured ... timely, relevant and frightening.
Bala’s debut will appeal to readers near and far. Fans of The Kite Runner will adore the raw truth from this novel, which is thought-provoking and told through several points of view. The author’s honesty and imagination work together perfectly, prompting one to really feel the characters’ emotions. The storytelling is heartfelt and gripping. Readers will find themselves rooting for the refugees and praying for humanity as they pursue their never-ending search for peace and freedom.
It might seem strange, initially, but sometimes the greatest clarity comes not from the news, but from fiction ... The Boat People succeeds not because it has answers, but because of how it foregrounds the questions: who are we as individuals? Who are we as a culture, as a society? How do our beliefs, our empathy, survive in the face of confusion and the threat of deception and violence? It may not be a perfect book, but The Boat People is a book perfect for our times, essential reading to bring context to questions which we are, perhaps, more inclined to ignore.
A reckoning between Canada’s historic ideals and its contemporary politics is forced in this timely and engrossing debut novel based on the arrival of 500 refugees from war-torn Sri Lanka in 2010 ... This is a powerful debut.
Bala’s writing is generally crisp, with occasional glints of humor. The short, unnumbered chapters march briskly; the dialogue lacks quotation marks ... A strong premise runs aground trying to form a set of convictions into a novel.