Author Patricia Nicol unveils a selection of the best books on: Refugees
I heard a young Ukrainian, Naliia, describe her “difficult past month” recently. “I lost my hair, I lost my house; the village where I spent my childhood has been completely destroyed,’ she voice-mailed the Invaded podcast.
You can see it on your screens, hear and read vivid stories, but it is still difficult to grasp the enormity of this humanitarian situation: that in Europe more than five million people, mainly women and children, have fled a country in the past two months, while millions more have been uprooted internally.
The rediscovered 1938 novel The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz captures, in terrifying fashion, having to leave your home and your life in a hurry.
Its most desperate aspect is that its Jewish protagonist, Berlin businessman Otto Silbermann, leaves Nazi Germany too late. The novel resembles a John Buchan thriller rewritten by Franz Kafka. The day after Kristallnacht, Silbermann criss-crosses Germany, but nowhere will he find refuge; his homeland has become a prison.
British author Patricia Nicol has collected a selection of the best books on refugees, including the rediscovered 1938 novel The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz and A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka.
Tomas and Tereza, the central couple in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, manage to flee their homeland after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But safe in exile in Zurich, Switzerland, they feel restless and uprooted. The urge to go home is irresistible.
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka, although a comic novel, explores how the trauma of exile and immigration can reverberate through generations.
In modern Britain, two estranged sisters, Vera and Nadia, unite in their antipathy for their widowed father Nikolai’s much younger new wife, Valentina. Nikolai came to the UK as a refugee after World War II. Valentina is part of a post-Soviet exodus.
I chose books that describe a European experience of fleeing from war and seeking refuge.
There are others, like The Kite Runner, The Beekeeper Of Aleppo and East West Street, which all too vividly express the perilous life led by migrants fleeing war. And remind us to show compassion.