The best books on refugee odysseys to freedom

Robin de Crespigny Author Of The People Smuggler: The true story of Ali Al Jenabi the Oskar Schindler of Asia
By Robin de Crespigny

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.” 

The books I picked & why

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I Confess: Revelations in Exile

By Kooshyar Karimi,

Book cover of I Confess: Revelations in Exile

Why 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.  

No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

By Behrouz Boochani,

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

Why 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. 

Good Muslim Boy

By Osamah Sami,

Book cover of Good Muslim Boy

Why 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.

Paula: A Memoir

By Isabel Allende,

Book cover of Paula: A Memoir

Why 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.

The Deceptions

By Suzanne Leal,

Book cover of The Deceptions

Why 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.

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