British Columbia Library Association

Libraries Across Borders: Books that Trump will never read—but you should

By Nolan Kelly

Libraries Across Borders celebrates seven books written by exiled or refugee authors from the seven countries whose passports were recently banned from travel to the U.S. by the Trump administration.


1. IRAN

Censoring an Iranian Love Story, by Shahriar Mandanipour

Author Shahriar Mandanipour offers a hopeful glimpse into the difficulties of falling in love in modern day Iran. The novel weaves seamlessly between two stories—one about a writer struggling to find authentic expression, up against the tyrannical Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the other about a budding relationship between a young couple who secretly defy Iran’s Campaign Against Social Corruption through their meetings amid the unknowing public, hidden by Tehran’s bustling streets and murmuring cafes.

Mandanipour has been dubbed “one of the leading novelists of our time,” by The Guardian. He was exiled from Iran and currently resides in America.

2. IRAQ

The Iraqi Christ, by Hassan Blasim

This collection of short stories by Hassan Blasim explores the new realities of life in Iraq, precipitated by the 2004 war and the country’s subsequent occupation. Blasim’s fantastical language sheds light on the gruesome and the macabre, describing surreal situations, normalized by the fog of war. A boy pushes his brother into a cesspit, drowning  him; a Pakistani migrant is tricked by his fellow workers into putting his arm in a barrel of setting concrete; a visionary Iraqi Christian trades a man’s suicide vest to save his mother’s life. The result is a metaphor-driven masterclass in wartime storytelling.

In 2014, Blasim became the first Arabic writer to win the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for The Iraqi Christ. He fled Iraq in 2004 and currently resides in Finland.

3. LIBYA

In the Country of Men, by Hisham Matar

In the Country of Men chronicles the barbarous early stages of the Gaddafi regime in Libya. The story is told through the eyes of Suleiman, a nine-year-old boy trying to make sense of his father’s occasional disappearances, caused by his involvement in the anti-Gaddafi movement. Suleiman’s days are spent playing in the ruins of Tripoli, his nights, piecing together his father’s increasingly erratic behaviour.

Matar’s debut novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. He was born in Libya but fled the Gaddafi regime in 1979.

4. SOMALIA

Black Mamba Boy, by Nadifa Mohamed

Black Mamba Boy tells the semi-biographical story of Mohamed’s father, Jama, who, while growing up in Yemen in the 1930s, is orphaned at the age of ten. The young boy is forced to travel to his ancestral land  of Somalia against the backdrop of Italian occupation in Northeastern Africa during the Second World War. As the boy journeys home, a grandiose historical narrative unfurls, capturing the war’s displacing effects and its ultimate reshaping of Northeastern Africa.

The book won the 2010 Betty Trask award and was shortlisted for a number of awards, including the 2010 Guardian First Book Award. Mohamed now resides in London after fleeing the Somalian Civil War.

5. SUDAN

They Poured Fire on us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan, by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, and Benjamin Ajak

The autobiographical account of three young boys – two brothers and their cousin – growing up in a secluded, close-knit village in South Sudan during the Sudanese Civil War. Forced to flee fighting in the dead of night, the tale follows their journey as they make their way across East Africa, before arriving at a refugee camp in Kenya. This powerful memoir provides a unique, firsthand portrait of the Sudanese Civil war as seen through the eyes of its refugee children.

The three men now reside in America.

6. SYRIA

The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria, by Samar Yazbek

A writer and journalist in her native Syria, Yazbek fell out of favour with the Assad regime in 2011 and was forced to flee. Unable to stay away when the civil war broke out, she snuck back in through a hole in a fence on the Turkish border. This book offers a primary account of the Syrian conflict, from its beginnings as a peaceful democratic movement, to the inception of the Free Syrian Army, to the flooding of ISIS soldiers into the country.

Yazbek was exiled from Syria and banned from travel outside the country by the Assad regime in 2011. She currently resides in Paris, France.

7. YEMEN

I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali

This harrowing piece of non-fiction details the life of Nujood Ali, a ten-year-old bride married off to a man three times her age. In it, she tells of abuses suffered at the hands of her husband and the details of her daring escape. Her freedom—earned with the help of local advocates—inspired a movement of other young girls in the Middle East to challenge their marriages.

The book was recently turned into a film that garnered the Yemini nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 2017 Academy Awards. Ali was offered asylum in America, but still resides in Yemen.


Nolan Kelly is a Library Tech Student at Langara College, a member of Libraries Across Borders, and an editor for BCLA Perspectives.

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