Books That Spur: Ben Rawlence on City of Thorns

  • April 8, 2016
  • 12:00 pm
  • Charbonnel Lounge in Elmsley Hall (St. Michael's College at U of T)

To the charity workers, the Dadaab refugee camp is a humanitarian crisis; to the Kenyan government, it is a “nursery for terrorists”; to the western media, it is a dangerous no-go area. But to its half a million residents, it is their last resort.

Situated hundreds of kilometres from any other settlement, deep within the inhospitable desert of northern Kenya where only thorn bushes grow, Dadaab is a city like no other. Its buildings are made from mud, sticks or plastic; its entire economy is grey that functions informally; and its citizens survive on rations and luck. Over the course of four years, Ben Rawlence was a first-hand witness to a strange and desperate place, getting to know many of those who have come there seeking sanctuary.

In his book City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp, Rawlence interweaves individual stories to show what life is like in the camp and to sketch the wider political forces that keep the refugees trapped there. Lucid, vivid and illuminating, City of Thorns is an urgent human story with deep international repercussions, brought to life through the people who call Dadaab home.

This event includes a catered ‘box lunch’.

  • General admission: $20
  • Students (with valid ID): $10



Spur is a national festival of politics, art and ideas and is a catalyst for change in Canada.

Through nationally relevant and locally nuanced discussions, presentations and performances, the festival seeks to spur its participants to action on issues affecting Canadians. Feisty, multi-partisan, forward-looking, and solution-driven, this national railway of ideas will provide Canada with vital new cultural infrastructure for the 21st century.

Founded in 2013, the festival has already grown from three to five Canadian cities, with plans for further expansion across the country. Produced by the Literary Review of Canada in partnership with Diaspora Dialogues, Spur prides itself on its community partnerships, cultural connections and a focus on accessibility and diversity.

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