The Boat People by Sharon Bala [in Library Journal]
In Canadian novelist Sharon Bala’s debut, a 60-meter freighter reaches British Columbia in 2009, carrying 500 survivors of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war. The arrivals are herded into detention centers by a government fearful of terrorists hidden among these “boat people.”
Mahindran and his six-year-old son Sellian are among the asylum seekers assigned to legal counsel Priya Rajakaran, whose initially reluctant involvement inspires interest in her own family’s Sri Lankan immigration. Adjudicator Grace Nakamura, whose grandparents and mother spent World War II imprisoned solely because of their Japanese ancestry, will determine Mahindran’s future.
Seamlessly navigating three separate backstories, Athena Karkanis proves herself a remarkable narrator, adeptly portraying the personalities of a sprawling cast, including Sellian’s tantrums, Priya’s uncle’s confessions, Grace’s mother’s dementia-strangled demands, and many more.
Verdict: Inspired by the real-life 2009-10 arrival of 550 Tamil refugees on two ships in British Columbia, Bala bestows unforgettable individual identities onto urgent headlines that Karkanis then embodies with exceptional fluency and ease.