The Boat People by Sharon Bala
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
*Please note I won a copy of this book via Goodreads Giveaways*
This book was difficult for me to engage with. I felt no emotional connection to the characters. Their story was told with a detached blandness, that made it hard to relate.
I could relate on a minor level, given that I immigrated to Canada, myself. But, I was not a refugee, so my experience was quite different.
I was also a little irked that it seemed the characters felt they should automatically be allowed to stay because they took a chance coming to Canada.
Now, I understand that these characters were escaping dire conditions. And I have absolutely no problem with people seeking asylum, let me be very clear on that. But, there are means and ways of doing that, which involve more than just paying and seeking passage on a ship.
I went through the proper process. I completed a medical exam, 2 sets of background checks (US and Canadian,) filled out a variety of forms, and even had to write a personal statement of my 12 year relationship with my husband. At final submission, my file was 102 pages. And I was still afraid that I would be turned down, for one reason or another. It's scary to think that a government can hold the fate of your life, your marriage, in their hands.
And, equally as scary, my own file was closed because of an error in the paperwork. An incorrect email address on file, and a missed communication about paying my right to permanent residence fee.
Luckily I had an excellent lawyer who fought to get my file reopened. And, almost 2 years ago, I became a permanent resident of Canada and was able to properly start my life with my husband.
So, I can relate to the characters impatience with the waiting, and the bureaucracy of the process. But, at the same time I understand the necessity of it. So impatience of the characters grated on me a bit.
I appreciated the familiarity of the setting, Burnaby, New West, and Richmond. I live on the edge of Burnaby and Coquitlam, so could visualize the physical settings of BC well when they were mentioned.
I also enjoyed the brief scenes with Sellian. He brought some color to the greyness of this story. It was refreshing to see Canada through his eyes.
Another reason I had a difficult time engaging with this story is the writing style. The jumping back and forth between three families, plus time shifts between past and present was too jarring. I also felt that the stories of the refugees were entirely too bland and detached for me to feel any emotion.
I also really felt that the chapters with Grace's perspective were uneccessary. And even Priya's for that matter. I understand the author is trying to bring multiple perspectives onto important social issues. But the intermixing of these three different stories made it feel unfocused, as though she were trying entirely too hard to make a point that just didn't come across well.