The best books about the human capacity to rise above prejudice

The Books I Picked & Why

Tsotsi

By Athol Fugard

Book cover of Tsotsi

Why this book?

Having grown up in South Africa during apartheid and witnessed how the appalling regime destroyed so many lives, I was profoundly affected by this read. It takes place in the sprawling black township of Soweto at the height of apartheid, where survival was a daily battle for the oppressed and marginalised inhabitants. To this end, Tsoti, an apparently heartless young township thug, lives a life of brutal crime. That is until he unwittingly kidnaps a baby during a bungled carjacking. Forced to care for the infant, Tsotsi gradually rediscovers his own humanity. The reader can’t help but be moved from a place of horror to one of deep understanding and empathy for the main character – a remarkable feat for any author. A compelling story of hope.


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Know My Name: A Memoir

By Chanel Miller

Book cover of Know My Name: A Memoir

Why this book?

I first heard Chanel Miller interviewed online and was immediately struck by how eloquently she conveyed her traumatic and difficult story. In a world where sexual assault is unfortunately still so commonplace, Miller’s words wield remarkable power, breaking through hackneyed reporting and stale responses, and forcing the reader to reflect afresh on how the global community views and responds to sexual assault. 


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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 book impacted me in many ways, not least for the hurdles the author had to overcome to write it. While detained on Manus Island, Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian journalist and poet, secretly sent out his book in text-size excerpts on an illegal phone smuggled into the Australian detention centre. It documents the shockingly inhumane treatment of those seeking asylum on Australia’s shores. In a time when many across the globe are forced to flee their homes and cross borders, it is a powerful reminder to keep calling out human rights violations. Brave, beautiful writing of a devastating story.


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All the Young Men

By Ruth Coker Burks, Kevin Carr O'Leary

Book cover of All the Young Men

Why this book?

This true story begins in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1986, when Ruth Corker Burkes, a solo mother of limited means is visiting a friend in the hospital. There she comes across a young man who has been shunned and left to die alone from the then little-understood and much-feared “gay disease”. Corker Burke stays with this stranger, affording him comfort and dignity in his last hours, and a final resting place in her family’s cemetery. ‘Jimmy’ becomes just the first of many HIV-infected men Corker Burkes helps during the terrifying AIDS crisis. She becomes their carer, advocate, and community educator, all the while battling ostracism and prejudice from families, medical professionals, and government bodies. I love this story for the way positive change can begin with just one person.


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I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity

By Izzeldin Abuelaish

Book cover of I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity

Why this book?

I heard Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish speak at the Auckland Writer’s Festival some years back now. The auditorium was packed, yet you could hear a pin drop, so moved was the audience by this man’s profound humanity. A dedicated physician who, despite having suffered personal tragedy in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, has not allowed hatred or revenge to corrode his life. He continues to work tirelessly for peace and resolution in the troubled Gaza region and is a beacon of hope for all mankind. 


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