Fiction Spotlight: Refugee stories

We've compiled a selection of adult fiction about refugee stories for your February reading.

Some feature suspense, perseverance and hardship, but they are also tales laced with themes of family and unity, passion and love, and told with humour, wit and vivid realism.

From the internationally bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Exit West is a love story that unfolds in a world being irrevocably transformed by migration. In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet--sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, thrust into premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors--doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As violence and the threat of violence escalate, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.
Exit West is an epic compressed into a slender page-turner--both completely of our time and for all time, Mohsin Hamid's most ambitious and electrifying novel yet.


A violent incident on a Nigerian beach has tragic echoes in posh London in Cleave’s debut novel Little Bee. British couple Andrew O’Rourke and his wife, Sarah, are on vacation when they come across two sisters, Little Bee and Nkiruka, on the run from the killers who have massacred everyone else in their village—in the pay, it turns out, of an oil company seeking the land. Soon the killers arrive and propose a not-quite-credible deal: they will trade the girls if Andrew and Sarah each cut off a finger. Andrew can’t do it, but Sarah does, and the killers drag the girls away. So two years later, when Little Bee shows up at Sarah’s house on the day of the funeral for Andrew, who has killed himself, it seems almost miraculous. 
Like Little Bee, Sarah is a survivor. But the lessons of the past are not enough to steer either woman to safety. Instead, in a world full of turpitude and injustice, it is their bold, impulsive choices that challenge the inevitability of despair, transforming a political novel into an affecting story of human triumph.

The Refugees is a collection of perfectly formed stories written over a period of twenty years, exploring questions of immigration, identity, love, and family. In The Refugees, Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration.


What We Owe is a novel of love, guilt and dreams for a better future, vibrating with both sorrow and an unquenchable joie de vivre.
Tehran, 1978: Nahid and Masood, both eighteen, are young lovers and young revolutionaries, determined to overthrow the Shah's regime and help to bring about democracy. Their clandestine activities are dangerous, but with youth, passion and right on their side, they feel invincible. Then one night, Nahid allows her younger sister to come along to a huge demonstration. Violence breaks out. Nahid lets go of her sister's hand. Everything changes. As the revolution sours, and the loss becomes too much to bear, Nahid and Masood are forced to flee to Sweden, on borrowed money with forged passports. Tehran is no longer safe for them, and now they are expecting a baby; they need to get out before they lose everything.Thirty years later, Nahid lies in a hospital bed replaying her life, raging at her carers, at her recent cancer diagnosis, at Masood, at her - now pregnant - daughter, and at her exile among people who, while purporting to understand, know nothing of what she has been through.

Saba arrives in an East African refugee camp as a young girl, devastated to have had to abandon her books as her family fled. In this crowded and often hostile place, she must carve out her new existence, always protecting her mute brother Hagos. A moving portrait of a woman of courage and intelligence, an insider's view of the textures of life in a refugee camp, and a compelling story of exile, survival and love, Silence is My Mother Tongue bears vivid testimony to the power of imagination and illusion and the infinite reach of human minds to reinvent themselves. Both intimate and epic, Sulaiman Addonia's extraordinary, subversive and sensual second novel dissects society's ability to wage war on its own women and explores the stories we must tell to survive in a broken, inhospitable environment.

On a moonlit beach a father cradles his sleeping son as they wait for dawn to break and a boat to arrive. He speaks to his boy of the long summers of his childhood, recalling his grandfather's house in Syria, the stirring of olive trees in the breeze, the bleating of his grandmother's goat, the clanking of her cooking pots. And he remembers, too, the bustling city of Homs with its crowded lanes, its mosque and grand souk, in the days before the sky spat bombs and they had to flee. When the sun rises they and those around them will gather their possessions and embark on a perilous sea journey in search of a new home.
Sea Prayer is a deeply moving, gorgeously illustrated short story for people of all ages from the international bestselling author of The Kite Runner, brought to life by Dan Williams's beautiful illustrations.


Nour has lost her father to cancer. She has also lost the place she was born in and now lives in the Syrian town of Homs, along with her sisters and mother. And so, by the fig tree in the garden, Nour whispers the stories her Baba once told her, so that the roots of the tree will carry those stories back to where her father is buried and he won't feel so alone. Her favourite is the story of Rawiya, a young girl from the twelfth century who left her home in search of adventure, dressed as a boy. But Syria is changing and it isn't long before protests and shelling destroy the peace of the quiet city. As Nour begins her own journey as a refugee, she draws strength and inspiration from the voyage of Rawiya, who became apprenticed to the famous mapmaker, Al Idrisi, and who battled mythical creatures and endured epic battles in the attempt to compile the most accurate map of the world ever made. A Map of Salt & Stars is a novel that illuminates the story of a country in turmoil, a tale of human resilience and the power of stories to transform.