My top recommendations: books and films about refugees

A couple of days ago, I watched an inspiring TED Talk by Ann Morgan, who read one book from every country in the world. She did it because she wanted to expand her understanding of the world. It made me think of all the books and films I’ve read over the years for very similar reasons.

Since I started teaching refugees and people seeking refuge (less humanisingly known as asylum seekers) back in 2007, I’ve always looked for books and films that teach me about their countries, culture, stories and history. I’m not the kind of person who can read fact-heavy history books to relax so I need mine in easy-reading or entertaining format.

So here are some that anyone with an interest in other cultures or refugee matters might be interested in:

Film: His House

His House is about a refugee and his wife who move to the UK and have to navigate the UK system for seeking refuge. It is a psychological thriller in which the couple are haunted by past traumas. This film really struck a chord with me as so many of my learners have mental health problems such as PTSD, depression and insomnia. When teaching daily routine, many have intimated anxiety towards bedtime, as that’s when the bad dreams come.

Pick your own ‘adventure’: Have your Passport Ready

Have your passport ready is an online video story commissioned by Knaive theatre. It follows two Syrian brothers who travel to the UK for safety. Viewers watch short video clips and make choices on how to navigate the UK asylum system, or leave their decisions to dice rolls. I got deported within two moves, see if you can make it to getting leave to remain!

Graphic novel: Meet the Somalis

Meet the Somalis is a collection of 14 illustrated stories sharing the lives of first, second and third generation Somali families in different European cities. The stories are each unique and include themes such as fleeing warzones, refugee camps, family life, making friends, work and settling in a new city. You should know by now that I’m a visuals geek and these illustrations are stunning.

Book: The Jungle by Pooja Puri

Set in the infamous ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, this story follows Mico, an ‘unaccompanied minor’ and the people he meets in the camp. It makes you consider the impact of the refugee crises on the local area as well as the displaced people themselves.

Book: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

I’ll be honest with you. I stayed in bed ALL DAY one day reading this book. I literally could not put it down. My husband came in to check on me because he thought I was ill! The story follows Nuri, a Syrian refugee, and his wife on their journey from their life in Syria tending bees to resettling in the UK. The journey tracks from warzone, to people smuggling, to refugee camp, to homeless hostel accommodation in the UK. The characters are so vivid and it really touched me as so many of my students have shared similar stories with me.

Books: Anything written by Asne Seierstad

Asne Seierstand is a Norwegian writer who has written many books about her experiences of living in war zones. It’s been a while since I read these, so my memory is a bit hazy, but they each opened my eyes to life in those countries at that particular point in time. Her books include: Book seller of Kabul (Afghanistan), With their backs to the world (Serbia) and 101 days (Iraq).

Book: In order to live by YeonMi Park

Human rights activist, YeonMi Park, shares her experience of growing up in North Korea, being sold into a slave marriage then arriving and resettling in South Korea. A remarkable story and an informative read. If you don’t have time to read her book, I recommend her TED Talk.

Book: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

No list of books about refugees would be complete without Malala, the youngest ever Nobel Peace prize laureate. In her book, Malala recounts the story of being shot by the Taliban for attending school to becoming a reknowned activist for female education.

Children’s book (age 7-11): The boy at the back of the class by Onjali Q. Rauf

I bought this for my nephew’s birthday, but was so intrigued that I had to read it myself (my reading age has dropped somewhat in 2020). It’s a story of a boy called Ahmet who is a Syrian refugee. Ahmet is the new boy in class and this book tells the story of settling into a new life and making friends in an unfamiliar country.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin (illustrations by Giovanni Rigano)

I was searching online for the graphic novel, Sapiens, when Amazon recommended this to me. It was a moment when I was thankful that computers stalk my buying behaviour. It shares the story of one boy’s journey from Africa, across the mediterranean to the refuge of the UK. The illustrations are fantastic and the storyline is realistic.

Have you read any good books or seen any good films about refugees? Please share them as I’d love more ideas… or perhaps for one day to say I’ve read a book from every country in the world!  

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5 thoughts on “My top recommendations: books and films about refugees”

  1. Thank you for sharing these suggestions. I’ve added quite a few to my to-read list!

    A couple of books about refugees and resettlement that I’ve appreciated are:
    – The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures
    – The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom (this one is specifically about teens in an ESL classroom in my city.)
    – We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria

    Granted, the first two are about refugee families that have been resettled in America (which is where I live), but I think many of the things found in the books could apply to the difficulties and experiences of refugees in other countries as well. (i.e. navigating a new culture, classroom, etc.)

    I am currently reading The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell you by Dina Nayeri and it is very interesting so far as well.

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