books

June Recommended Reads

To coincide with Refugee week 17 – 23 June, here are some recommended reads to aid our understanding of why people become displaced and the challenges faced when seeking safety. 

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The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. The taverna It is 1974 on the island of Cyprus. Two teenagers, from opposite sides of a divided land, meet at a tavern in the city they both call home. The tavern is the only place that Kostas, who is Greek and Christian, and Defne, who is Turkish and Muslim, can meet, in secret, hidden beneath the blackened beams from which hang garlands of garlic, chilli peppers and wild herbs. This is where one can find the best food in town, the best music, the best wine. But there is something else to the place: it makes one forget, even if for just a few hours, the world outside and its immoderate sorrows.

In the centre of the tavern, growing through a cavity in the roof, is a fig tree. This tree will witness their hushed, happy meetings, their silent, surreptitious departures; and the tree will be there when the war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to rubble, when the teenagers vanish and break apart.

Decades later in north London, sixteen-year-old Ada Kazantzakis has never visited the island where her parents were born. Desperate for answers, she seeks to untangle years of secrets, separation and silence. The only connection she has to the land of her ancestors is a Ficus Carica growing in the back garden of their home.

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Babel by Rf Ruang

Oxford, 1836.

The city of dreaming spires.

It is the centre of all knowledge and progress in the world.

And at its centre is Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation. The tower from which all the power of the Empire flows.

Orphaned in Canton and brought to England by a mysterious guardian, Babel seemed like paradise to Robin Swift.

Until it became a prison…

But can a student stand against an empire?

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The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape.

As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all – and perhaps this is the hardest thing they face – they must journey to find each other again.

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The night before Rupert’s 30th is a black tie dinner at the Kentish Town McDonald’s – catered with cocaine and Veuve Clicquot. The morning after, his girlfriend Clemmie is found murdered on Hampstead Heath. Naturally, all the party-goers have alibis.

This investigation is going to be about Classics degrees and aristocrats, Instagram influencers and who knows who. Or is it whom? Detective Caius Beauchamp isn’t sure. He’s sharply dressed, smart, and as into self-improvement as Clemmie – but as he searches for the dark truth beneath the luxury, a wall of staggering wealth threatens to shut down his investigation before it’s begun.

Can he see through the tangled set of relationships in which the other half live, and die, before the case is taken out of his hands?

Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin

One night, not long after the last American troops leave Vietnam, siblings Anh, Thanh and Minh flee their village and embark on a perilous journey in hope of a new life. Separated from their parents and fearing the worst they find themselves travelling alone in the world without a home to return to. After a twist of fate lands them in Thatcher’s Britain, they must somehow build new lives there. Will the love they have for each other be enough to keep them together?

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What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

More bodies have washed up on the shores of a small island. Another overfilled, ill-equipped, dilapidated ship has sunk under the weight of its too many passengers: Syrians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, all of them desperate to escape untenable lives back in their homelands. But miraculously, someone has survived the passage: nine-year-old Amir, a Syrian boy who is soon rescued by Vänna. Vänna is a teenage girl, who, despite being native to the island, experiences her own sense of homelessness in a place and among people she has come to disdain. And though Vänna and Amir are complete strangers, though they don’t speak a common language, Vänna is determined to do whatever it takes to save the boy.

In alternating chapters, we learn about Amir’s life and how he came to be on the boat, and we follow him and the girl as they make their way toward safety. What Strange Paradise is the story of two children finding their way through a hostile world. But it is also a story of empathy and indifference, of hope and despair—and about the way each of those things can blind us to reality.

The End of Time by Gavin Extence

Beneath the stars, on a stony beach, stand two teenage brothers.

They are wearing lifejackets that are too big for them and their most precious belongings are sealed in waterproof bags tucked inside the rucksacks on their backs.

Turkey is behind them and Europe lies ahead, a dark, desperate swim away.

They don’t know what will come next, but they’re about to meet a man who does. He calls himself Jesus, the Messiah. He is barefoot, dishevelled and smells strongly of alcohol.

And he doesn’t believe in chance meetings. He believes he has information about the future – information that will change three lives forever . . .

Butterfly by Yusra Mardini

When young Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini realized her boat’s engine shut down as she was traveling from Syria to Greece with other refugees, there was no hesitation: she dove into the water. Surfacing, she heard desperate prayers and sobbing from the passengers in the sinking boat above her. Between the waves, her elder sister Sarah screamed at her to get back on the boat. But Mardini was determined. She was not going to let Sarah do this alone. Grabbing the rope with one hand, she began kicking up the black water, inching the boat towards the distant shore.

This bold act of bravery saved the lives of a boatload of refugees heading to Turkey from Syria. After her arrival in Greece, Mardini, focused and undeterred, worked toward a lifelong goal: to compete in the Olympics. She succeeded, and competed in 2016 on the Refugee Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro.

Butterfly tells her story, from Syria to the Olympics to her current work with the UN as a Goodwill Ambassador. Mardini is eager to tell her story in the hopes that readers will remember that refugees are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, chased from their homes by a devastating war. In today’s political climate, this story is guaranteed to inspire and educate readers from every background.

The Lightless Sky by Gulwali Passarlay

Gulwali Passarlay was sent away from Afghanistan at the age of twelve, after his father was killed in a gun battle with the US Army. He made a twelve-month odyssey across Europe, spending time in prisons, suffering hunger, making a terrifying journey across the Mediterranean in a tiny boat, and enduring a desolate month in the camp at Calais. Somehow he survived, and made it to Britain, where he was fostered, sent to school, and won a place at a top university. He was chosen to carry the Olympic torch in 2012. One boy’s experience is the central story of our times. This powerful memoir celebrates the triumph of courage over adversity.

The Return by Hisham Matar

The Return is at once a universal and an intensely personal tale. It is an exquisite meditation on how history and politics can bear down on an individual life. And yet Hisham Matar’s memoir isn’t just about the burden of the past, but the consolation of love, literature and art. It is the story of what it is to be human.

Hisham Matar was nineteen when his father was kidnapped and taken to prison in Libya. He would never see him again. Twenty-two years later, the fall of Gaddafi meant he was finally able to return to his homeland. In this moving memoir, the author takes us on an illuminating journey, both physical and psychological; a journey to find his father and rediscover his country.