Category Archives: book review

Recommended reading

While I was on holidays recently I put together a list of some of the most interesting books about refugees that I have found, and added it the website. This reading list is not exhaustive, but it should have something for everyone. My recommended book list includes books about:

  • Personal stories,
  • The Australian situation,
  • The European situation,
  • Fiction, and
  • Other interesting reads.

Some of the books are very new and some were published a while ago. One published over 10 years ago is still a wonderful read – The rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif is likely to remain an Australian classic for many years to come. New publications such as The New Odyssey – the story of Europe’s refugee crisis are wonderfully researched, but give you a personal perspective on the current global situation.

I have also included some fiction, as book clubs contact me for recommendations. What is the what by Dave Eggers, for example, is heart breaking but rewarding at the same time. I’m not sure why some book clubs don’t feel comfortable taking on non-fiction – you couldn’t go wrong with Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit or City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence.

I’ll keep adding to the list and I would love to hear about other recommendations.

‘I have stories I want to tell’

Want to read a magical story about an amazing family set alongside a gripping political commentary?  The enlightenment of the greengage tree by my good friend Shokoofeh Azar, which will be launched this week in Australia, does just that.Enlightenment of the greengage tree cover

Living a large part of her life in Iran means most of Shokoofeh’s writing has been published in Farsi. This is her first novel to be written and translated into English with Western readers in mind. It is an opportunity for us to experience the art of Persian story-telling in the style of magical realism at its best. Alice Pung wrote in an early review: ‘It is incredible. I have never heard such a voice before… Azar writes about Iranian history with the lightness of a feather’s touch. Transcendental, brilliant and beautiful.

Shokoofeh came to Australia in 2010 as a political refugee by boat. Sadly sometimes Australians find this the most interesting thing about her. On a blog by Rashida Murphy, another novelist, Shokoofeh said: ‘Surviving a boat journey does not define a person for life. How I got here is not what I’m about. I have stories I want to tell. I paint. I’m a mother.’

Shokoofeh’s book is published by the small independent publisher Wild Dingo and is being launched by Professor Baden Offord, the Director of the Centre for Human Rights Education on Friday 18 August at the Centre for Stories.

This is a book that represents the rich literary tradition of Iran. I loved it.

Shokoofeh Azar

They Cannot Take the Sky

The sky is like a friend for a prisoner, because around you everything is metal fences, but the sky, they cannot take the sky.

These words are from a book of stories from people who have been detained by the Australian government for seeking asylum.  Each person reveals in their own words their journey, daily struggles, their fears, hopes and dreams.

The title of the book comes from Behrouz Boochani’s story.  Behrouz is a Kurdish They cannot take the sky coverjournalist and writer who fled from Iran. He has been in detention on Manus Island since August 2013. He writes and reports from inside the detention centre when he can and has over 4,000 followers on Facebook. A film he shot entirely on his mobile phone about the life and treatment of refugees detained offshore, premiered at the Sydney Film Festival recently.

As I read Behrouz’s story and others by people of refugee background, I moved between admiration for people’s resilience and optimism to despair and anger.

The editors have collated the testimonies of more than 20 refugees from Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan. Some have had their claims for asylum granted and have gone on to become outstanding members of the Australian community. Munjed is a surgeon who had to leave Iraq because he refused to mutilate army deserters. Now that our society has decided not to waste his gifts, he is working again and specialising in prosthetic limbs.

My friend Jamila from Afghanistan has also told her story. She was placed in detention as a five year old child with her mother and brother. Thankfully after some time her family were re-united and she now studies law at university in Perth. Others, unfortunately continue to languish in detention.

As Maxine Beneba Clarke writes: ‘This book will make Australians ask –again – of ourselves; what kind of people are we and how did we possibly let it come to this?

The not-for-profit group Behind the Wire is responsible for They Cannot Take the Sky. I suggest you take a look at their website – as well as information on the book they have a podcast, audio stories, videos and a series of portrait photographs. They are also currently running an outstanding exhibition at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne and I certainly hope it tours widely.  It was developed in collaboration with the Museum by Behind the Wire and a volunteer reference committee of individuals with lived experience of seeking asylum.