Culture

Three books that will help you understand the refugee story

A photograph of the author, Austin Bailey.

By Austin Bailey

June 20, 2019

Three books that will help you understand the refugee story

68.5 million people can’t live in their own homes anymore because they’ve been forcibly displaced by violence, natural disasters or other catastrophes. More than 25 million people are currently living as refugees. And every single day, 44,000 more people have to flee their homes in the face of violence and persecution.

We could go on and on with depressing statistics. But we’ve found that it’s people, not numbers, who can bring the weight of the problem home. It’s nearly impossible to imagine what life would be like as a refugee. Luckily, we have stories to help us humanize the incomprehensible numbers and give us at least a small understanding of the lives of people who can’t go home.

Here are some of our favorite books on migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced people.

City of Thorns

Each of the world’s 21 million refugees has a harrowing story to tell, and those stories usually go unheard. City of Thorns speaks up to remind us about the humanity and potential trapped hopelessly in limbo.

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp puts the spotlight on Dadaab in Kenya, which has existed for decades and has a population of more than half a million people.

Sea Prayer

This heartbreaker is a painterly adult storybook by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini, who is well-known for his New York Times bestsellers The Kite Runner, And the Mountains Echoed and A Thousand Splendid SunsSea Prayer is a fictionalized account inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe in 2015.

Lost Children Archive

A look at the American immigration crisis from north of the border, this is a fictional account that encompasses not only migration, but also the contentious family separation issue. Plus a lot of other things.

"[Author Valerie] Luiselli improbably pieces together a dizzying mosaic of themes that includes the dissolution of a marriage, the pratfalls of parenthood, sibling bonds, forced migration of the Apaches, finding identity in song, separation of families on the border, the morality of public media consumption, the earnestness of internal thoughts, listening, capturing sounds, the danger of euphemisms and the influence of literature on personal lives," Jason Woods wrote in his review of Lost Children Archive. It's a lot to take in, but Luiselli is a talented writer with an important story to tell.