‘No one is born to be a refugee’: Tareq Hadhad defends What Strange Paradise


With four books remaining on the Canada reads table and free agent Suzanne Simard’s vote to win, panelists delved into each of the books during the second day of debate.

There were four rounds – each focused on a book – where champions had to respond to criticism of structure, character development, and how the themes of hope and self-discovery were presented in their books.

Entrepreneur Tareq Hadhad, champion What a strange paradise by Omar El Akkadwas the last panelist in the hot seat.

Tareq Hadhad, left, and host Ali Hassan on day two of Canada Reads 2022. (Radio Canada)

What a strange paradise tells the story of a nine-year-old boy named Amir, the sole survivor of a refugee ship arriving in a small island nation. When Amir wakes up on a beach, surrounded by bodies and debris, he sees masked men and instinctively runs away. He finds safety with a local teenage girl, Vanna, who – troubled by the xenophobic attitudes of officials, tourists and locals on her native island – becomes determined to deliver him to safer shores.

The novel tells their stories, while asking tough questions about the global refugee crisis, like, “How did we get here? and “What are we going to do about it?”

WATCH | The book trailer What a strange paradise

Trailer of the book: What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

Omar El Akkad’s novel will be defended by Tareq Hadhad on Canada Reads 2022. 1:09

Hadhad, the CEO of Peace by Chocolate, explained how What a strange paradise resonating with his own experience as a former refugee from Syria. He argued that in these cynical times, Canadians need to hear the harrowing stories of refugees.

“No one is born to be an immigrant, no one is born to be a refugee. It’s not a choice. It’s not a decision. You have to have this experience. [What Strange Paradise] certainly represented what it means to be that human being who lost everything and became a number on that United Nations certificate,” Hadhad said.

The subject of refugees has been politicized by populists who turn anxiety into votes.

“The beauty of Omar is that he brought the perspectives of other people on the boat and other people on the island who have different views on what it means to be kind.

“The subject of refugees has been politicized by populists who turn anxiety into votes…I think that was the power of What a strange paradise – he delivered on this very lightly, in a way that connects and humanizes refugees, in a way that no other book I’ve read tells my own story. “

LISTEN | Learn more about What a strange paradise

Canada reads31:16Canada Reads 2022: Discover what a strange paradise

In this introduction to the novel What Strange Paradise, find out what the book is about and why entrepreneur and former Syrian refugee Tareq Hadhad chose it for Canada Reads 2022. 31:16


The cast of Canada Reads 2022 from left to right: host Ali Hassan, Tareq Hadhad, Suzanne Simard, Malia Baker, Mark Tewksbury and Christian Allaire. (Jeremy Gilbert/CBC)

Meet the champions and their chosen books:

Here’s how you can log in Canada reads 2022:

ON THE RADIO : Canada reads airs on CBC Radio at 11:05 a.m. ET, CST, MT, PT; at 1:05 p.m. in AT and 1:35 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. It airs again at 8 p.m. local time and 8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador.

ON TV: CBC TV will broadcast Canada reads 1 p.m. ET, CST, MT, PT; at 2 p.m. in AT and 2:30 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador.

IN LINE: Radio-Canada Books will broadcast the proceedings live at 11 a.m. ET on CBCBooks.ca, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Gem. The debates will be available for replay online every day. Livestreams on YouTube and Facebook will be viewable outside of Canada.

PODCAST: Listen to the podcast debates on CBC Listen. The episode will be uploaded every day after the live broadcast.

WARNING: The books chosen for Canada Reads deal with difficult subjects, such as trauma and abuse. These stories can be shared during the broadcast. Click this link to find publicly available support resources.