The best books on refugee odysseys to freedom

Who am I?

I began writing Ali’s incredible international odyssey as a film, but once I discovered the epic breadth of his journey, I decided on a book first. For 3 years I worked intensely with Ali. Not only was it a passionate and personal epic tale about love and loss, overcoming insurmountable odds, endurance and survival, but it hit a chord with readers from all walks of life, bringing understand to why people fled their countries, and help to change attitudes on refugees from fear to compassion. After three years on the road with the book I have now completed the screenplay.


I wrote...

The People Smuggler: The true story of Ali Al Jenabi the Oskar Schindler of Asia

By Robin de Crespigny,

Book cover of The People Smuggler: The true story of Ali Al Jenabi the Oskar Schindler of Asia

What is my book about?

This multi-award-winning best-seller tells a story of daily heroism, bringing to life the forces that drive people to put their lives in unscrupulous hands. Told with enormous power and insight, it is an utterly gripping portrait of a man cut loose from the protection of civilisation, attempting to retain his humanity while taking whatever path he can out of an impossible situation.

The People Smuggler was Sebastian Faulks’s Favourite Book of the Year in the New York Times Book Review and the Best Book of 2013 in the UK Guardian & Observer. Missy Higgins called it "A most extraordinary book. It has opened my eyes in a life-changing way.” 
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of I Confess: Revelations in Exile

Robin de Crespigny Why did I love this book?

Kooshyar Karimi wrote this stunning memoir so beautifully it blew me away. Now a Sydney-based doctor and writer, he grew up as a Jew in Muslim Iran, hiding his origins from a brutal regime, always with a humorous eye. 

It is such a powerful story of survival, torture, and spying, plus forced deceptions and betrayal of others for helping desperate female rape victims. The struggle for redemption and eventual escape make his journey an unforgettable one.  

By Kooshyar Karimi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Confess as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whilst many stories have come out of Iran in the last few decades, nothing matches the grittiness of this portrayal of life in the crumbling alleyways and damp cellars of an Iranian slum district--the extreme poverty and desperation, and the regular betrayals and compromises, even within families, in the fight for survival. Born on the back seat of a police car in the subzero temperatures of a bleak and icy winter's night, Karimi summons extraordinary and unwavering dedication throughout his childhood to break free of this hopeless existence, culminating in the achievement of his dream to become a surgeon. But…


Book cover of No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

Robin de Crespigny Why did I love this book?

This heartrending award-winning international best-seller puts the ruthless day-to-day existence of incarceration on Australia’s Manus Island refugee camp to the page with an exquisitely poetic voice.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian journalist and defender of human rights, wrote his story on a secret mobile phone while enduring firsthand the brutalisation of being locked up for six years for no crime. 

By Behrouz Boochani,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked No Friend but the Mountains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Award-winning International Bestselling Story of One Man's Six Year Detention in Australia

'A powerfully vivid account of the experiences of a refugee: desperation, brutality, suffering, and all observed with an eye that seems to see everything and told in a voice that's equal to the task.' - Phillip Pullman

In 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani sought asylum in Australia but was instead illegally imprisoned in the country's most notorious detention centre on Manus Island. This book is the result.

Boochani spent nearly five years typing passages of this book one text at a time from a secret mobile phone…


Book cover of Good Muslim Boy

Robin de Crespigny Why did I love this book?

This wonderfully written true story is told as a wild madcap, can’t put it down, tragic comedy, which is incredibly funny but carries with it an underbelly of loss and heartbreak. 

As he struggles to straddle the demands of his Iraqi-Iranian cultural mix as a refugee in Australia, Osamah makes some disastrous choices, that lead him down a complex maze to the truth of where his own heart lies.

By Osamah Sami,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Good Muslim Boy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Good Muslim Boy tells the story of Osamah Sami's journey from Iran during the Iraq war to the suburbs of Australia and his quest to fit into his new life whilst trying to stay a good Muslim boy. In turns comic and tragic, Osamah's story explores the universal truths of growing up, falling in love, marriage, family and following one's dream; whilst also telling the immigrant's story of straddling two cultures and the difficult expectations of family and faith versus fitting in. Osamah begins by recounting his youth under Islamic rule in Iran: the mischievous antics that he and his…


Book cover of Paula: A Memoir

Robin de Crespigny Why did I love this book?

In this heart-wrenching memoir, international best-selling author Isabel Allende interweaves her own extraordinary life journey and heritage, with her daughter Paula’s slow and torturous death. 

Driven out of Chile into exile herself, plus endangering her own life helping other refugees escape, Allende writes with deep psychological incite into the fate of the displaced. To being forced to leave one's home and country, to lose your tribe and nation, to survive the damage to your soul, and forever fearing not being safe.

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Paula as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Beautiful and heartrending. . . . Memoir, autobiography, epicedium, perhaps even some fiction: they are all here, and they are all quite wonderful."-Los Angeles Times

In this literary classic, New York Times bestselling author Isabel Allende recalls the story of her beloved daughter and her remarkable family's past.

When her daughter, Paula, became gravely ill and fell into a coma, Isabel Allende began to write the story of her family for her unconscious child. Bizarre ancestors are introduced; delightful and bitter childhood memories are shared; amazing anecdotes of youthful years are relived, and the most intimate secrets are quietly passed…


Book cover of The Deceptions

Robin de Crespigny Why did I love this book?

With its roots in truth, this powerful novel brings us face to face with the insanity of war and how humans deal with the heartbreak of being torn from their homes, horrific deprivation, and betrayal. 

Cleverly structured and beautifully written with tenderly articulated characters, it presents a fresh eye on the Holocaust and its consequences, and had me continually asking myself how I would have endured, and what choices I would have found myself making, in that situation.

By Suzanne Leal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Deceptions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Moving from wartime Europe to modern day Australia, The Deceptions is a powerful story of old transgressions, unexpected revelations and the legacy of lives built on lies and deceit.

Prague, 1943. Taken from her home in Prague, Hana Lederova finds herself imprisoned in the Jewish ghetto of Theresienstadt, where she is forced to endure appalling deprivation and the imminent threat of transportation to the east. When she attracts the attention of the Czech gendarme who becomes her guard, Hana reluctantly accepts his advances, hoping for the protection she so desperately needs.

Sydney, 2010. Manipulated into a liaison with her married…


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The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

Book cover of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

Maryka Biaggio Author Of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Historical fiction author Lover of hidden stories Research nerd Opera fanatic

Maryka's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Model Spy is based on the true story of Toto Koopman, who spied for the Allies and Italian Resistance during World War II.

Largely unknown today, Toto was arguably the first woman to spy for the British Intelligence Service. Operating in the hotbed of Mussolini's Italy, she courted danger every step of the way. As the war entered its final stages, she faced off against the most brutal of forces—Germany's Intelligence Service, the Abwehr.

The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

What is this book about?

Celebrated model Toto Koopman had beauty, brains, and fame. Born to a Dutch father and Indonesian mother, she took up the life of a bon vivant in 1920s Paris and modeled for Vogue magazine and Coco Chanel. But modeling didn’t satisfy her. Fluent in six languages, she was adventurous and fascinated by world politics.

In London she attracted the attention of Lord Beaverbrook, the William Randolph Hearst of England. She soon became his confidante, companion, and translator, traversing the Continent and finding herself caught in the winds of impending war. Beaverbrook introduced her to influential people, including a director at…


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