The best novels on the refugee experience

Martin Fletcher Author Of Promised Land: A Novel of Israel
By Martin Fletcher

The Books I Picked & Why

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa

By Peter Godwin

Book cover of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa

Why this book?

A beautifully intertwined story of the decline of a man and the parallel decline of a nation, Zimbabwe, which pivots into an entirely new story: the author’s dying Christian British father was actually a Polish Jew, born Kazimierz Goldfarb, whose family was killed in Treblinka concentration camp.

Godwin’s story is ultimately inspiring and uplifting as he comes to terms with his family’s past while building his own future in his new country.


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Desert Flower

By Waris Dirie, Cathleen Miller

Book cover of Desert Flower

Why this book?

It isn’t the best-written book but Waris Dirie’s account of her escape from Somalia, her life as a domestic servant in London, her marriages of convenience, and her ultimate triumph in New York’s world of fashion, haunted me for years.

A frank, intimate account of a beautiful woman’s escape from a nomadic tribal life of female abuse to scaling the heights of western fashion modeling.


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Last Waltz in Vienna

By George Clare

Book cover of Last Waltz in Vienna

Why this book?

A sensitive yet relentless story of his family’s failed assimilation that ends in its annihilation. Clare ends up in the UK, seeking meaning, in vain. His story so closely mirrors the real-life story of my own family, also Jewish refugees from Vienna who found refuge in the UK, that it sent a chill down my spine. Beautifully written and evocative. Clare concludes with Voltaire’s verdict: “History never repeats itself, man always does.”


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Swedish Tango: A Novel

By Alyson Richman

Book cover of Swedish Tango: A Novel

Why this book?

The former movie star “was now in a country where no one even knew his name.” The cry of every refugee, the eerie sense of being transparent, dispensable, irrelevant emerges powerfully from Alyson Richman’s intricately plotted and touching narrative: a fictional tale of World War Two refugees from Finland and France and asylum-seekers from Pinochet’s Chile whose new lives cross in Sweden.


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Small Island

By Andrea Levy

Book cover of Small Island

Why this book?

This gem of a novel is just as much about how the British adjusted to Jamaicans as how the latter adapted to Britain, and the conclusion is – with great difficulty.

In Levy’s story, Hortense confronts the abyss between her lofty expectations of Britain and the post-war racist reality, as well as her equal disappointment with the man she has married. But Hortense marches on, swinging her handbag, overcoming every obstacle, and Levy’s witty, penetrating and accurate portrayal of Britain’s uncomfortable adjustment to its colonial heritage is a triumph.


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