The most recommended books about refugee camps

Who picked these books? Meet our 11 experts.

11 authors created a book list connected to refugee camps, and here are their favorite refugee camp books.
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Book cover of Lila

Ruth Rotkowitz Author Of Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

From my list on novels set during the post Holocaust period.

Why am I passionate about this?

As the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, I have experienced, observed, and researched inherited trauma. I have also noticed the dearth of works of fiction that focus on the second generation. I believe it is time for the voices of the second generation to be heard, and for the issues facing us to be explored.

Ruth's book list on novels set during the post Holocaust period

Ruth Rotkowitz Why did Ruth love this book?

Lila tells the story of two WW11 survivor families whose daughters are born on the same day in a Displaced Persons Camp, who immigrate to the United States around the same time, and take apartments in the same building in the South Bronx, New York. The immigrant neighborhood, full of busybody characters, is beautifully rendered. Everyone expects the two girls to be as close as sisters, their lives and fates happily intertwined. However, their growing-up years veer into dangerous territory. While one family manages to establish a home of love and caring, the other morphs into a den of dysfunction and perversion. Upending everyone’s expectations, the two girls embark on a path of jealousy and hatred. As secrets are revealed, their paths diverge, ending in tragedy. The novel is a shattering portrait of how trauma of the Holocaust and inherited trauma passed on to the next generation can destroy lives.

By Rose Ross,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sarah and Lila both born in 1946, 11 months after the war, on the same day, minutes apart, in a displaced persons camp in Germany, were seen by their parents, Holocaust survivors, as a miracle, and their lives destined to have a bond that would never be broken. They were ... wrong.Both families relocate to the United States, and settle in the South Bronx, in the same neighborhood and building, to start their new lives. By the end of the summer of 1960, everyone finds themselves in the turmoil of love, friendship, and competition. Secrets are disclosed; accusations are made…

Book cover of When Stars Are Scattered

Alyssa Bermudez Author Of Big Apple Diaries

From my list on graphic novels for young readers to encourage empathy.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a graphic novel creator and art teacher with years of experience, I understand the importance of introducing serious topics for discussion in an accessible way. My art students of all ages are curious about different subjects, wondering what life is like for others and if their own feelings are normal. Graphic novels are a perfect tool for fostering these discussions. Having been interested in comics as a medium for a long time, I'm thrilled to share this with young audiences and encourage exploration of diverse perspectives.

Alyssa's book list on graphic novels for young readers to encourage empathy

Alyssa Bermudez Why did Alyssa love this book?

This book deeply touched me. Through the eyes of a child, it portrays universal emotions of hope, family, and resilience amidst the refugee crisis.

It sheds light on the harsh realities of living in a refugee camp, offering valuable insights into the experiences of displaced families. It's a powerful tool for teaching children about empathy. The ending moved me to tears and prompted me to research and donate to several relevant foundations.

I believe graphic novels possess a unique power to immerse readers in the characters' experiences and emotions. When a child reads When Stars Are Scattered, they step into the world of a refugee camp and gain a new appreciation for everyday necessities.

This graphic novel, based on real people, offers a distinctive storytelling format that can convey silence, body language, and the passage of time in ways other mediums cannot.

By Omar Mohamed, Victoria Jamieson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked When Stars Are Scattered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

A National Book Award Finalist, this remarkable graphic novel is about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a former Somali refugee to the Newbery Honor-winning creator of Roller Girl.

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would…

Book cover of Silence Is My Mother Tongue

Helen Benedict Author Of The Good Deed

From my list on honest novels about being a refugee.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a novelist and journalist who has been writing about war and refugees for nearly two decades. In 2018, I went to the Greek island of Samos, which held one of the most inhumane refugee camps in Europe, to talk to people there about their lives and hopes. Out of this, I wrote several articles and later two books, including The Good Deed. My hope is to counteract the demonization of refugees, so rife in the world today, by bringing out all that we humans have in common, such as our need for shelter, food, family, safety, and love. 

Helen's book list on honest novels about being a refugee

Helen Benedict Why did Helen love this book?

This is a poetic, lilting, and truly original novel by an Eritrean-Ethiopian author who based the story on his own childhood in a Sudanese refugee camp.

The main characters are a young sister and brother, both bold, sexually fluid, and eager to break away from the stifling and often defeated culture of a refugee camp around them, which makes the story just as much about desire and love as it is about displacement.

I've never read anything quite like it before. It's surprising at every turn, and the writing is just stunning.

By Sulaiman Addonia,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Silence Is My Mother Tongue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A sensuous, textured novel of life in a refugee camp, long-listed for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction

On a hill overlooking a refugee camp in Sudan, a young man strings up bedsheets that, in an act of imaginative resilience, will serve as a screen in his silent cinema. From the cinema he can see all the comings and goings in the camp, especially those of two new arrivals: a girl named Saba, and her mute brother, Hagos.

For these siblings, adapting to life in the camp is not easy. Saba mourns the future she lost when she was forced…

Book cover of Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile

Anne Irfan Author Of Refuge and Resistance: Palestinians and the International Refugee System

From my list on Palestinian refugees.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian at University College London, where I examine Palestinian refugee history in both my writing and my teaching. I first visited a Palestinian refugee camp 15 years ago, and I’ve spent much of my life since then researching the subject’s history and politics. As I see it, this topic is really the key to understanding the political dynamics of Israel-Palestine today. While a huge amount has been written on Israel-Palestine, I have always found that the most striking and informative works focus on refugees’ own experiences – and that’s the common thread running through the books I’ve chosen here.

Anne's book list on Palestinian refugees

Anne Irfan Why did Anne love this book?

Refugees of the Revolution is an ethnographic study of Shatila refugee camp, which is notorious as the site of a 1982 massacre and has become central to Palestinian nationalist narratives.

In the early 21st century, Allan spent time living in Shatila, originally wanting to research the nationalist discourse there. Instead, she came away with a much more complex study of the refugees’ complex struggles, in both the political and the quotidian sense. In taking an unconventional approach, Allan has something in common with Sayigh, even though they were writing 40 years apart.

For these reasons Refugees of the Revolution is particularly interested to read as a follow-up to Sayigh’s The Palestinians, which is my first pick above. 

By Diana Allan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Refugees of the Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Some sixty-five years after 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homeland, the popular conception of Palestinian refugees still emphasizes their fierce commitment to exercising their "right of return." Exile has come to seem a kind of historical amber, preserving refugees in a way of life that ended abruptly with "the catastrophe" of 1948 and their camps-inhabited now for four generations-as mere zones of waiting. While reducing refugees to symbols of steadfast single-mindedness has been politically expedient to both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict it comes at a tremendous cost for refugees themselves, overlooking their individual memories and aspirations…

Book cover of Tibetan Foothold

Patti Shales Lefkos Author Of Nepal One Day at a Time: One woman's quest to teach, trek and build a school in the remote Himalaya

From my list on inspiration to leap out of your comfort zone.

Why am I passionate about this?

Currently a journalist, author, and adventure traveller, I am a former inner-city educator from Vancouver, BC, Canada with a Masters of Environmental Education degree, a Wilderness Leadership certificate, and a post-graduate certificate in Journalism. Solo and with my husband I have completed several major treks in Europe, Tibet, and Nepal including Mount Kailash kora, Everest Base Camp north (Tibet), The Annapurna Circuit and Base Camp, Everest Base Camp south (Nepal), Upper Mustang, the Manaslu Circuit and Tsum Valley for a total of about 800 km. I am currently training to complete Nepal’s Great Himalayan Trail (low route), 1,500 km from one end of Nepal to the other.

Patti's book list on inspiration to leap out of your comfort zone

Patti Shales Lefkos Why did Patti love this book?

Dervla Murphy truly showed up as a voluntourist before the term even existed. Her 1966 account of volunteering in an orphanage in a Tibetan refugee camp in India inspired me to look for an opportunity to help children in need in a developing country. Her bravery in the face of incredible discomfort and profound sadness at the plight of children suffering from not only a lack of education but more urgently from hunger and disease influenced my future travel decisions. Dervla’s perseverance and tenacity against all odds in this desolate camp and support of Tibetan refugees warmed my heart and strengthened my resolve to make a difference in the lives of others. Her courage helped me overcome my fears of solo travel to remote areas.

By Dervla Murphy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The moving tale of Dervla Murphy's experiences working in the Tibetan refugee camps of Northern India in the sixties.

Book cover of Unsettled: Refugee Camps and the Making of Multicultural Britain

Wendy Webster Author Of Mixing It: Diversity in World War Two Britain

From my list on migrants and refugees in twentieth-century Britain.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian and writer and worked in universities all my life. I love writing and everything about it—pencils, pens, notebooks, keyboards, Word—not to mention words. I started writing the histories of migrants and refugees in twentieth-century Britain (and their entanglement with the history of the British Empire) in the 1980s and then kept going. When I studied history at university, migrants and refugees were never mentioned. They still weren’t on historians’ radar much when I started writing about them. Here I’ve picked stories that are not widely known and histories that show how paying attention to migrants and refugees changes ideas about what British history is and who made it. 

Wendy's book list on migrants and refugees in twentieth-century Britain

Wendy Webster Why did Wendy love this book?

The history of refugees in twentieth-century Britain is hardly known. A map at the beginning of Unsettled reveals how many places in Britain feature in this history, all given the title ‘refugee camp’. Accommodation was in tents or in facilities that were repurposed including workhouses, holiday camps, wartime barracks, internment camps, air bases, and prisoner-of-war camps. Unsettled tells the story of life in these camps and is also about the impact of refugees and camps on local communities and the contexts in which refugees and local populations encountered each other. A striking finding is that homeless Britons sometimes lived in the camps alongside refugees. Unsettled is an unsettling read—it challenges the widespread forgettings of refugee camps in Britain and records a time before the state had the power to detain asylum seekers and deprive them of the right to work. 

By Jordanna Bailkin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Today, no one really thinks of Britain as a land of camps. Camps seem to happen 'elsewhere', from Greece, to Palestine, to the global South. Yet over the course of the twentieth century, dozens of British refugee camps housed hundreds of thousands of Belgians, Jews, Basques, Poles, Hungarians, Anglo-Egyptians, Ugandan Asians, and Vietnamese. Refugee camps in Britain were never only for refugees. Refugees shared a space with Britons who had been displaced by war and
poverty, as well as thousands of civil servants and a fractious mix of volunteers. Unsettled: Refugee Camps and the Making of Multicultural Britain explores how…