"A burning flare of a novel, at once incendiary and illuminating."
Omar El Akkad, author of American War

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When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees reaches the shores of British Columbia, the young father is overcome with relief: he and his six-year-old son can finally put Sri Lanka's bloody civil war behind them and begin new lives. Instead, the group is thrown into prison, with government officials and news headlines speculating that hidden among the "boat people" are members of a terrorist militia infamous for suicide attacks. As suspicions swirls and interrogation mounts, Mahindan fears the desperate actions he took to survive and escape Sri Lanka now jeopardize his and his son's chances for asylum. Told through the alternating perspectives of Mahindan; his lawyer Priya, who reluctantly represents the migrants; and Grace, a third generation Japanese-Canadian adjudicator who must decide Mahindan’s fate, The Boat People is a high-stakes novel that offers a deeply compassionate lens through which to view the current refugee crisis. Inspired by real events, with vidid scenes that move between the eerie beauty of northern Sri Lanka and combative refugee hearings in Vancouver, where life and death decisions are made, Sharon Bala's stunning debut is an unforgettable and necessary story for our times.


“The Boat People is a burning flare of a novel, at once incendiary and illuminating. With a rare combination of precision, empathy and insight, Sharon Bala has crafted an unflinching examination of what happens when the fundamental human need for safety collides with the cold calculus of bureaucracy. In the best tradition of fearless literature, it shatters our comfortable illusions about who we really are and reveals just how asymmetrical the privilege of belonging can be. This is a brilliant debut – a story that needs to be told, told beautifully.”
—Omar El Akkad, author of American War

“This wise and compassionate novel is an intimate portrait of one of the great humanitarian crises of our time. Its power lies in its breadth, for it examines not just those who come to our country seeking refuge, but also those who determine their fate. As such it implicates us all in the ongoing crisis.”
—Shyam Selvadurai, author of The Hungry Ghosts and Funny Boy

The Boat People is a powerful, gripping moral drama told with deep compassion and humanity. Sharon Bala takes us behind the headlines about refugees and asylum seekers straight into the beating hearts of unforgettable human beings. A timely tale and a beautiful, remarkable debut.”
—Lynne Kutsukake, author of The Translation of Love

“The Boat People is a beautifully crafted story with a big heart. This novel has an urgency and relevance that cuts to the bone and will resonate with readers of all stripes. Bala offers no easy answers and no political posturing, but her magnificent storytelling will leave readers wondering about their own convictions, asking themselves, ‘What would I do? What would I have done?'”
—Michel Stone, author of Border Child


"Probing the dramas surrounding deportation hearings, this timely novel follows the intersection of three lives after a cargo ship arrives in Canada, carrying Tamil refugees fleeing war in Sri Lanka." - The New Yorker

"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." - Robert Wiersema in The Toronto Star

"Bala has vividly conjured worlds, both on Canadian soil and back in Sri Lanka... What we also get from a novel like this is a new way of seeing" - Marissa Stapley in The Globe & Mail

"Already on several bestseller lists in Canada, Bala’s fiction has been praised for its timely appeal and its ability to capture this journey through the perspective of refugees.” - The Economist's 1843 Magazine

"Cinematic details...transport us to a tension-rich drama. The Boat People reminds us of the fragile nature of truth." - Mari Carlson in BookPage

"Bala is brisk, bracing and astonishingly prescient... ahead by a century in the cricket score of politically powerful contemporary fiction." - US Dhuga in Atlantic Books Today.

"A superb political novel...a very well-crafted story likely to be read for a long time." - Crawford Kilian in The Tyee (Warning: MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS)

"Bala’s strength is in showing the human side of everyone involved. Many details of the situation... might have been dull and bureaucratic if Bala’s narrative were not so clear and engaging." - Dave Williamson, Winnipeg Free Press

"A sharp examination of the global refugee crisis from both human and bureaucratic perspectives." - Toronto Life

"Timely and engrossing ...this is a powerful debut." - Publishers Weekly

"This earnest debut novel forcefully explores the issues surrounding immigration…deeply moving and nuanced, The Boat People asks what price a country is willing to pay when public safety comes at the cost of human lives.” - Booklist.


TVO's The Agenda in the Summer invited me on for a half hour interview with host Nam Kiwanuka.

Michael Enright and I chatted about The Boat People, curry books, and how everyone is a little bit racist on The Sunday Edition

The wonderful Shelagh Rogers invited me to be a guest on The Next Chapter

"At times it made me think of The Book of Negroes - it had that epic quality of bringing a giant issue to a really well-crafted book." - Q contributor Jael Richardson on why she recommends everyone read The Boat People

Roundhouse Radio's Minelle Mahtani invite me and Lisa Moore to an interview on Sense of Place. We talked about dialogue, language, and that embarrassing uncle we all have.

Wide-ranging interview with Tamil Culture's Shanelle Kandiah.

Angela Antle and I had a good old chin wag on Atlantic Voice about editors, the Oprah of Afghanistan, my writing group, and yes...the novel too

Toronto Star article about The Boat People

Interview with the Vancouver Sun