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Bookphoria with Victoria – Narrative Books on Human Rights

Bookphoria has highlighted many academic texts this year, but the in-between days around the holidays (or whenever you may have time off) is an excellent time to read narrative books on human rights. Narrative accounts in the form of non-fiction, memoirs, essays, fiction and poetry centered on human rights issues and/or historical events are a means of humanizing complexities and can foster empathy and connection.

Narratives have the power to evoke emotions and create a deep, personal connection with the audience. Human rights issues can sometimes seem abstract or overwhelming, but personal narratives make them relatable on a human level, fostering empathy and understanding. Sharing personal experiences allows survivors and advocates to reclaim their narratives, highlighting resilience and strength in the face of adversity.

Narratives are also a potent tool for raising awareness about human rights abuses and social injustices. Complex issues can become accessible to a broader audience, leading to increased public understanding and support for necessary reforms, interventions, or reparations. They are an important tool for upholding collective memory, ensuring past struggles are remembered and informing future generations about the importance of these critical junctures in history. Witnessing these human rights struggles creates a sense of shared humanity and solidarity. They remind us that the quest for justice is a collective effort, that transcends borders, identity, and culture and that empathy is crucial for advancing human rights on a global scale.

This reading list suggests books that call attention, through narrative, to the interwoven complexity of our shared human experienc

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers / Loung Ung.

47:3 UNG

From the publisher: From a childhood survivor of the Cambodian genocide under the regime of Pol Pot, this is a riveting narrative of war crimes and desperate actions, the unnerving strength of a small girl and her family, and their triumph of spirit.

One of seven children of a high-ranking government official, Loung Ung lived a privileged life in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh until the age of five. Then, in April 1975, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army stormed into the city, forcing Ung’s family to flee and, eventually, to disperse. Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans, her siblings were sent to labor camps, and those who survived the horrors would not be reunited until the Khmer Rouge was destroyed.

Harrowing yet hopeful, Loung’s powerful story is an unforgettable account of a family shaken and shattered, yet miraculously sustained by courage and love in the face of unspeakable brutality.

East west street : on the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity / Philippe Sands.

81 SAN

From the publisher: When he receives an invitation to deliver a lecture in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, international lawyer Philippe Sands begins a journey on the trail of his family’s secret history. In doing so, he uncovers an astonishing series of coincidences that lead him halfway across the world, to the origins of international law at the Nuremberg trial. Interweaving the stories of the two Nuremberg prosecutors (Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin) who invented the crimes or genocide and crimes against humanity, the Nazi governor responsible for the murder of thousands in and around Lviv (Hans Frank), and incredible acts of wartime bravery, EAST WEST STREET is an unforgettable blend of memoir and historical detective story, and a powerful meditation on the way memory, crime and guilt leave scars across generations.

Free by Lea Ypi

47:4 YPI

From the publisher: Family and nation formed a reliable bedrock of security for precocious 11-year-old Lea Ypi. She was a Young Pioneer, helping to lead her country toward the future of perfect freedom promised by the leaders of her country, the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania. Then, almost overnight, the Berlin Wall fell and the pillars of her society toppled. The local statue of Stalin, whom she had believed to be a kindly leader who loved children, was beheaded by student protestors.

Uncomfortable truths about her family’s background emerged. Lea learned that when her parents and neighbors had spoken in whispers of friends going to “university” or relatives “dropping out,” they meant something much more sinister. As she learned the truth about her family’s past, her best friend fled the country. Together with neighboring post-Communist states, Albania began a messy transition to join the “free markets” of the Western world: a dystopia of pyramid schemes, organized crime, and sex trafficking. Her father, despite his radical left-wing convictions, was forced to fire workers; her mother became a conservative politician on the model of Margaret Thatcher. Lea’s typical teen concerns about relationships and the future were shot through with the existential: the nation was engulfed in civil war.

Ypi’s outstanding literary gifts enable her to weave together this colorful, tumultuous coming-of-age story in a time of social upheaval with thoughtful, fresh, and invigorating perspective on the relation between the personal and the political, and on deep questions about freedom: What does freedom consist of, and for whom? What conditions foster it? Who among us is truly free?

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