Sunday, July 28, 2019

2019 Harper Lee Prize Winner - The Boat People

Earlier this month The Boat People by Sharon Bala was announced as the winner of the 2019 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. It was a coincidence I was putting up posts on The Boat People at the same time. From the shortlist for the Award I am currently reading The Widows of Malabar Hill Earlier this month I had read Class Action, the third book on the shortlist. 

The joint press release of the University of Alabama Law School and the American Bar Association Journal announcing The Boat People as winner states;

“‘The Boat People’ is timely and powerful. Even those who think they are versed in the various vantage points involved in the complex area of immigration will gain a deeper appreciation of the nuances by reading Sharon Bala’s first novel,” said Molly McDonough, editor and publisher of the ABA Journal. “The book explores the perspectives of desperate refugees; the attorneys who – voluntarily or not – are trying to help them; and the adjudicators who are asked to make potentially life-or-death decisions with little to no evidence.”

Legal mystery fiction author and a member of this year’s judging panel, Claire Matturo offered a powerful endorsement of the book in a CBC article: 

           "The Boat People” touched me, haunted me and educated me — in much
           the same way To Kill a Mockingbird did when I first read it 
           as an impressionable child," …..

"It's the kind of book I wish the whole world could read with an open mind and an open heart."

In the joint press release Bala is quoted as follows:

“Writing this novel was a meditation on empathy. My greatest hope is that it has the same effect on readers.”

Bala on her website added a statement on how she will be using the attention from the Awards to gain her attention in Canada’s political debates:

Refugee law, and in particular, the perfectly legal and legitimate process of coming to the border and seeking asylum, is a situation that is woefully misunderstood by the general public. It doesn’t help that so many Canadian politicians - many of them lawyers by training - willfully and purposely lie. Fiction can be the antidote, translating the letter of the law into a compelling plot and using imagined characters to show readers the truth. The truth is so important. This is a federal election year and now more than ever we all have a duty to tell the truth. Loudly. And as often as possible. Awards give me and my book a soap box and a megaphone. For these gifts, I’m incredibly grateful.

It is an excellent book forcing readers to think about refugee claimants. Much of the world has become resistant to claims.

Each year readers of the ABA Journal can vote on the Award. The winner of that voting process constitutes one vote on the voting panel. This year the votes were 43.88% for Class Action, 35.41% for The Widows of Malabar Hill, and 20.7% for The Boat People

Following my personal tradition once I have posted my review of The Widows of Malabar Hill I will write a post on which book I thought should have won the Award.


  1. I'll admit, Bill, that I haven't (yet) read Boat People. But from your posts, and from what I've learned about the book, it is a worthy winner. It was already on my TBR - I really must read it soon. In the meantime, I'll be very interested in your views of The Widows....

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I do hope you may drop back again after you have read the book with your thoughts.

  2. I look forward to your post on which book you think should have won the prize.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. My post on my favourite is just over a a week away.