May 28th is Amnesty International Day! In 1961, Peter Benenson was inspired to write “The Forgotten Prisoners” by two Portuguese students who were imprisoned for toasting to freedom in a public restaurant in Portugal. He launched the Appeal for Amnesty which called for the release of everyone around the world imprisoned for peaceful expression. Within a year, the Appeal for Amnesty turned into Amnesty International, which is now a prominent organization fighting against injustice around the world.
To celebrate Amnesty International Day, we are giving you five fictional stories that are based on real conflicts around the world. These stories deal with a handful of human rights issues from forced labor, refugee crises, civil war, government abuses, forced relocation and children in the military.
- One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that is set in a Soviet labor camp. The story takes inspiration from Solzhenitsyn’s own imprisonment in a Soviet labor camp for critiquing Stalin’s leadership. The book details one day out of Ivan Denisovich’s ten-year sentence in the labor camp after being wrongfully convicted of treason during World War II. The story gives insight into the horrors of imprisonment, torture, and execution of innocent Soviet civilians by the Soviet government. In 1970, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize in Literature and just three years later, he wrote The Gulag Archipelago which is a larger collection of information about Soviet labor camps.
2. Mosquito by Roma Tearne
For historical fiction lovers, Mosquito is a love story set during the civil war in Sri Lanka. The main character, Theo, returns to his homeland of Sri Lanka where his romance with a young artist named Nulani begins. However, the brutalities of civil war make this love more complex than the average relationship. This story demonstrates how civil war bleeds into all aspects of life, yet can be overcome by love and hope.
3. Human Acts by Han King
Human Acts is a novel that takes on the 1980 Gwangju Uprising in South Korea. In this uprising, hundreds of students were massacred and faced other horrible atrocities at the hands of the government when protesting the usage of martial law. The book switches from multiple perspectives to explore the loss of life, loss of freedom and loss of voice that all stem from the massacre.
4. Chalkline by Jane Mitchell
In Jane Mitchell’s Chalkline, 9-year-old Raqif lives in a Kashmiri village when Kashmiri militants come looking for recruits. Raqif’s turns into a soldier and is taken to be trained and indoctrinated by the freedom fighters, later being sent on terrorist missions. Although Raqif can barely recognize his old self, his family hopes that he will return and follow them on a path of redemption. Chalkline is a story about young people having their freedom and rights taken from them, which is all too familiar in many countries around the world, especially ones ridden with conflict.
5. Dream Land by Lily Hyde
Dream Land is a fiction story by Lily Hyde that is about a family that returns to Crimea in the 1990s after the Crimean Tatars were forcibly exiled during World War II. Young Safi and her family decide to move their life from Uzbekistan back to Crimea, but their return is more unwelcome than expected. This book tells the unique story of the long term and unforeseen impacts that come with forced relocation. How does one return to their homeland, which has drastically changed in the post-Soviet era? What happens if it no longer feels like home like it once did?
Reading fiction books about real human rights issues around the world is a great way to expand your knowledge on the topic. Celebrate this Amnesty International Day by expanding your perspective on human rights!