Twenty people a minute abandon their homes to escape war, persecution or terror. The United Nations has designated June 20 as World Refugee Day in solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, stateless persons and returnees. The global pandemic means they need our support more than ever; having made my donation, I’m ready to share some fiction books you might like to read. All were published within the last ten years and are loosely arranged in historical order of the story setting, beginning with two set in the Second World War and ending with two which are timeless. I’ve limited myself to twelve, but could have chosen more. I hope you find something here to tempt you.
In The Photographer by Meike Ziervogel, a young family builds a new life in a refugee camp near Hamburg at the end of the Second World War.
Being an unloved child is not unlike being an outsider in someone else's land. The unnamed narrator of You Would Have Missed Me by Birgit Vanderbeke, is both, in a pitch-perfect account of a five-year-old migrating with her family from east to west Germany, with no-one to help her translate her experience into words.
Miki, the teenage protagonist of Alen Mešković’s poignant yet optimistic coming-of-age story, is also adrift. Set against the backdrop of hatred and violence that erupted within a part of Europe where different cultures had lived in harmony under Tito since the end of the Second World War, Ukelele Jam rose from the author’s own experience of being a Bosnian refugee.
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis: an elderly Armenian living in Nicosia is exiled a second time with the partitioning of Cyprus into Greek and Turkish sectors.
In The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander, mother’s reluctant relocation to California from the Soviet Union is part of a beautiful story about obsession, fear of intimacy and the distorting pain of childhood loss.
Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen: an Israeli doctor has an uncomfortable encounter with a migrant from Eritrea in a novel about the lengths to which we go to evade our responsibilities towards our fellow human beings.
breach by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes is a collection of short stories set in the now dismantled Calais refugee camp known as The Jungle.
Shatila Stories is a multi-authored novella resulting from an innovative collaboration between current residents of the Palestinian camp in Shatila and London-based publisher, Peirene Press.
Travellers by Helon Habila is a hybrid between a novel and a short story collection illustrating how the experience of migration to Europe from Africa is as variable as the individuals who make that journey, and the welcome or otherwise they receive along the way.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid brings a touch of magic realism to a gritty tale of burgeoning love within an atmosphere of murder and mayhem.
These Are The Names by Tommy Wieringa: fifteen desperate people hand over their documentation to the traffickers, assured they have a better chance of being granted asylum if they arrive with no names.
I’ve explored a little of the migrant identity in my short story collection, Becoming Someone. In one story, those with the luxury of being born in the West don’t realise their well-liked work colleague is at risk of deportation. In another, refugee parents are shocked by their British-born teenage daughter’s disconnection from the persecution that brought them to seek asylum.
In the field of mental health, the term asylum has been stripped of its original meaning and come to signify the worst of inpatient psychiatric ‘care’. That’s certainly the sense in which it’s used in my forthcoming novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, about a brother and sister separated for fifty years, is primarily set in a longstay psychiatric hospital. You’ve missed your chance to choose a name for the hospital, but if you register for my email newsletter, you might be lucky and win a copy.
Turn around! Turn around! There are people on the beach.
Mein Kampf? Atlas Shrugged?
I’m weary, let’s chance it!
I’m so thirsty I could drink seawater.
Turn around! I won’t birth my baby in a detention centre.
They’re waving placards!
To beat us?
To warn us?
To greet us!
Don’t rock the boat, I’ll vomit!
Can’t you feel the good vibrations? Row nearer so we can read the words.
Wow: MIGRANTS’ LIVES MATTER!
What makes you think we can trust them?
Isn’t it obvious? The apostrophe’s in the right place.