The Boat People by Sharon Bala. A Review
In a visually-rich and spirited poem, called Home, the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire writes:
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
The heaviness of those words echo throughout the contemplative and heart-warming story Sharon Bala tells in The Boat People. It is a singularly profound tale that is extremely relevant for our present times and forces us to confront the issue of criminalizing people fleeing from unspeakable conflict and who find themselves as refugees in countries where they do not receive the warm welcome they have hoped for and expected. This is the case when a boat full of five hundred people – men, women and children -arrives on the shores of Canada seeking refugee. Among them are Mahindan and his young son Sellian. An upright and steadfastly decent man, Mahindan is still grieving the loss of his dearly beloved wife, whom we are introduced to in a series of poignant and charming flashbacks woven throughout the story. It is the determination to give their son a chance at a life ‘uncircumscribed by war’ that fuels his drive throughout the story. For the Canadians who receive the refugees, their empathy must be measured with the cautious suspicion that nestled within this large number of people, could be terrorists who are seeking to unleash violence on their shores and disrupt the peace of the society that they are coming into. With prose of immeasurable simplicity, Ms. Bala delivers a gift from the heart. She effortlessly gives a human face to what many news reports have reduced to numbers and statistics s and dives into the complexity of the situations that refugees are fleeing from and what compels them to make the harrowing decision to make a perilous sea voyage to safety. And while it is a fictional tale, so much of this is anchored in our present day reality that it is difficult to ignore the real life events that undoubtedly influenced this story.