Refugees and migrants in Fiction

Refugees and migrants in Fiction

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

The topic of refugees and economic migrants is often at the fore in these days of dreadful wars, economic turmoil and persecution.  Their plight is often misunderstood and it can be hard for us to understand how and why they left their homelands to travel to an uncertain future.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Recently the Book of the Month in our Libraries was American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins – a hard hitting but compelling story about a mother and child’s horrific journey out of Mexico being pursued by the Mexican gangsters who had murdered the rest of her family whist targeting her journalist husband, available in branches or by request here American dirt (in Libraries NI Catalogue) Even now months after I read it I still carry the mental picture of them travelling precariously on the roof of a fast moving cargo train along with 100s of other desperate people. The shadows of the corrupt society they had left behind was never far behind them along with the threat of capture and the desperate hope that any life they may find across the border, though illegal, will be better by far than what they have left behind. This stark reality is faced by so many in our modern world.

There are multitudes of stories from Ireland about those who have been forced to emigrate, through economic hardship and the promise of a better life. Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn hit the charts a few years ago  (available as audiobook here Brooklyn (on or in branches on request here Brooklyn (on Catalogue) about a young woman given the opportunity to leave 50’s Ireland for a better future in Brooklyn. Likewise Graham Norton’s recent book Home Stretch (reserve on Libraries NI Catalogue) focuses on a young lad who is forced to leave the close knit Irish town he calls home.   As a young gay man, the threat of being ‘outed’ to his conservative community along with taking the blame for a terrible car accident which killed some of his friends, is enough to fuel his flight from home first to England then onto the United States. A chance encounter years later with a young Irish boy connects him back to his family with a few twists and turns along the way.

Author Christy Lefteri Search Results for christy lefteri (in Libraries NI Catalogue) is the child of Cypriot refugees and has worked with refugees from Syria in Athens. She uses her history and knowledge in both The BeeKeeper of Aleppo and Songbirds to shine a light on these hidden communities who have suffered such degradation and discrimination through no fault of their own. Songbirds in particular highlights the hidden lives of homeworkers brought in from African countries to work full time as maids, cooks, housekeepers and nannies for little pay and no recognition or appreciation. The author was inspired by the real life disappearance of 5 migrant domestic workers and 2 of their children to write her story.  Shockingly there was no police investigation because the authorities thought they had probably just moved on voluntarily.

In an interview with Tanya Sweeney of The Independent the author reports that

‘Even my very liberal family members would say things like, ‘Well, you know domestic workers don’t have any roots. They don’t know how to settle anywhere’.

She continues to say that it was as if the family ‘didn’t really understand the sacrifices that these women that were working for them had made. It’s like they didn’t really see them as full individuals.’  She wonders if they really know who is sharing their house and raising the children. She highlights the plight of migrant mothers who are reduced to keeping in contact with their own children across continents through Facetime whilst rearing someone else’s.

The resulting book ‘Songbirds’ is her way of highlighting these issues through her excellent fiction and bringing them to the fore. It is an engaging read bringing all the colours and aroma of Cyprus into our homes.

Songbirds by Christy Lefteri

All of these titles have educated and informed me in a way that the TV news would not– the little details which emphasise the personal tragedies speak much more loudly to me than any history lesson ever would and I am grateful to all those authors who spend time researching and writing about the plights of others, exposing injustice and raising awareness.





refugees (plural noun)

  1. a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster:

"tens of thousands of refugees fled their homes" · 


displaced person · DP · escapee · fugitive · asylum seeker · runaway · exile · émigré · stateless person · outcast




  1. a person who moves from one place to another, especially in order to find work or better living conditions.


immigrant · emigrant · incomer · newcomer · asylum seeker · settler · 


  1. an animal that migrates.



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