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Robin de Crespigny's The People Smuggler

At once a non-fiction thriller and a moral maze, this book The People Smuggler is one man's epic story of trying to find a safe place in the world.

When Ali Al Jenabi flees Saddam Hussein's torture chambers, he is forced to leave his family behind in Iraq. What follows is an incredible international odyssey through the shadow world of fake passports, crowded camps and illegal border crossings, living every day with excruciating uncertainty about what the next will bring.

Through betrayal, triumph, misfortune – even romance and heartbreak – Ali is sustained by his fierce love of freedom and family. Continually pushed to the limits of his endurance, eventually he must confront what he has been forced to become.

With enormous power and insight, The People Smuggler tells a story of daily heroism, bringing to life the forces that drive so many people to put their lives in unscrupulous hands. It is an utterly gripping portrait of a man cut loose from the protections of civilisation, attempting to retain his dignity and humanity while taking whatever path he can out of an impossible position.

'An astonishing story...' Sebastian Faulks, Favourite Book of the Year 2013, New York Times Book Reviews

'The adventures make Les Miserables look like plain sailing. Unforgettable.' Sebastian Faulks, Favourite Book of the Year 2013, The Guardian

'Just finished the most extraordinary book. It has opened my eyes in a life-changing way ... The People Smuggler, by Robin de Crespigny. Never before have I read such a personable, heart-wrenching account of an asylum seeker and the horrors of what they've had to endure.' Missy Higgins

'A totally riveting story about a brave and honourable man. Passionate, vivid and true, it bounces off the page.' Rosie Scott

'A must-read ... it's an illuminating tale in the context of the asylum seeker debate. A thriller and an inspirational story.' Paul Morgan, Australian Book Review

'While giving us the details of Ali Jenabi's plight, the dramatic narrative holds strong ... Compelling.' Dianne Dempsey, The Age

'This is a story that had to be told.' The Weekend Australian

'An engrossing account of a man seen by some as a saviour and others as a criminal. A significant book.' Thomas Keneally

'This is a story every Australian should read ... a complex mixture of love of family and a hard-edged determination to survive in a brutal, unforgiving world.' Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald

'An epic story full of dramatic reversals and cinematic cliff-hangers ... Ali emerges as an unlikely but true blue hero: resilent, loyal to his mates and protective of those weaker than himself, canny, resourceful, unafraid of sacrifice, a man of honour ...' Jose Borghino, The Australian
'His story ... is just mind-blowing. This moving saga of endurance and bravery could well compel a stone to cry.' The Australian Way (Qantas Magazine)

'It's gripping, thrilling, humorous and epic. This book is compulsive reading and a story of our times.' Helen Crompton, The West Australian

'A must-read ... It's an illuminating tale in the context of the asylum-seeker debate ... a thriller and an inspirational story.’ 
Jane Sullivan, The Saturday Age

'Tight, powerful and extraordinarily well-written ... It is a book which glories in the strength, courage and compassion of the human spirit.' Bruce Haigh, The Canberra Times

'One of the most immensely readable and most deeply thought-provoking books ... a reminder of the power of literature to capture stories that not only change the world but also change the way we think.' Byron Shire Echo 

'A remarkable tale of one man's odyssey.' The Sunday Mail

'Aptly described as a non-fiction thriller and a moral maze is thus a considered, timely and insightful account of one man's incredible experience.' Michael Jacobsen, Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin

'The story of Ali is one of extraordinary courage which contrasts the human capacity for brutality and cruelty with that of compassion and genuine kindness.' Toowoomba Chronicle

'An amazing book. It reads like an adventure story, telling the harrowing and heartbreaking story of Ali's journey ...' Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Volume 24, Number 2

'Ali's story is absolutely riveting ... read it and be angry. And then maybe write a letter to your MP.' Grant Hansen, Good Reading

'A gripping account of one man's determination to free himself, his family and his people ... a fascinating insider's perspective of the underbelly of a global crisis.' Instyle

'It is an utterly gripping portrait of a man ... attempting to retain his dignity and humanity.' Mid-West Times

'An incredible tale ... utterly gripping and fascinating.' Yen

'Throughout this important book, Ali emerges as an important hero ... It's also a book that reveals the strength of the human spirit.' The Week

'Sometimes, it seems the unlucky just fell to earth ... nothing to define them as human beings ... The People Smuggler changed that for me'. Gail Forrer, Noosa News

'This book should be compulsory reading to those concerned about asylum seekers, which seems to be a great many of us.' Pittwater Life

'With enormous power and insight, The People Smuggler tells a story of daily heroism, bringing to life the forces that drive so many people to put their lives in unscrupulous hands.' Imagine

'The People Smuggler is a fabulous, must-read book.' Fiona Crawford, Boomerang

'The People Smuggler is a rollercoaster, with characters and a story that will stay with you long after you've read it.' Erica Bartle, Girl With a Satchel

'[An] engrossing story ... it will open a country's eyes to what refugees are fleeing from.' Good Reads 

'It is a tribute to the quality of the writing that the book raises political questions about refugees without breaking the stride of the very personal story it tells.' Chris Breen, Refugee Action Collective, Victoria

‘This wonderfully written book projects Ali’s brave and authentic voice in a way that is captivating and compelling.'
Mark Goudkamp,

'The book had me turning page after page waiting for a lull, so I could put it down and go to sleep, but none came.' Tarla's Blog, AWA

Published by Penguin Books Australia



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Robin has travelled Australia to speak at over 150 events. Ali Al Jenabi's remarkable true story of survival and tenacity cuts through the political rhetoric and bias surrounding the debate on asylum seekers and humanises the discussion. Here is just some of the feedback we've received during Robin's tour.


Tania Penovic, Co-Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law:

We were thrilled to host Robin in a public forum. She is not only a gifted writer but also a powerful public speaker. The audience was riveted by her passion, humour and depth of her insights. Robin has captured an extraordinary human narrative and richly deserves all of the accolades she has received. 


A. Sics, Penguin Sales Coordinator:

I went to the Newtown Festival yesterday and popped into the Writer’s tent, just in time for Robin to be appearing. She was amazing. She was the last author to speak for the day— so for an hour and a half, we all sat there listening to her in absolute awe. Robin’s passion, enthusiasm and knowledge on the topic at hand was moving to say the least. She deserves all the accolades that The People Smuggler is getting and it’s next on my reading list.


Buddy Bulletin Review:

Robin was one of the most fascinating speakers we have heard on the subject of ‘boat people’ and ‘people smugglers’. Robin, in my view, is the ‘Freddie Steen’ of the Arts world; wherever she goes to talk about her book, she will change minds about asylum seekers.


Susan Banki, Senior Lecturer, Human Rights, Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney:

Robin speaks compellingly and knowledgeably about the issue of asylum in Australia. She offers a nuanced examination of a contentious issue.


Frank Inskter, Librarian, Manly Library:

Robin de Crespigny was a very popular speaker at Manly Library. Her talk was not only very well delivered, but also thought provoking, generating challenging questions and lively and inspiring discussion. Nobody wanted the event to end. Her sincerity, natural ease and honesty about the topic shone through.


Sue Nuttall, President, Rotary Club of Bendigo South in Bendigo:

The story of Ali al Jenabi was delivered with clarity and passion and was seen to move to tears a member of the audience who had earlier in the evening described the audience as “a crowd of bleeding hearts”.


Claude Broomhead, Coordinator Five Dock Library:

Robin speaks with enthusiasm and passion about the plight of the people smuggler. Her honest research and commitment is respected and appreciated by all those who attended the talk. We had a lot of questions and could have gone on till the late hours.


Michael Abdy, Club Service Director, Rotary Club of Stafford:

Robin was very passionate about the book content and spoke from the heart although this did not override her delivery as her talk was very informative and interesting. The presentation was very personal.


Friederike Krishnabhakdi-Vasilakis, Director, South Coast Writers Centre:

Robin’s book The People Smuggler is compelling reading and the sort of book that you can’t put down. Her talk about the writing process in collaboration with Ali, the guy whose story we follow, was a true revelation…

The People Smuggler should be on the “must read” list of every politician.


Robyn Arrowsmith, AFGW-SH Committee:

Robin de Crespigny was guest speaker at a dinner meeting of the Australian Federation of Graduate Women, Southern Highlands Branch, in December last year. Members and guests thoroughly enjoyed hearing her speak about her book The People Smuggler. Robin’s presentation was engaging, compelling and delivered with passion…


Krissy Kneen, author and manager at Avid Reader Bookstore: 

Robin de Crespigny was our guest for an event at Avid Reader recorded with Paul Barclay for Big Ideas on Radio National. It was a fascinating event and Robin was an engaging speaker. The crowd was rapt in her fascinating conversation.


Gerry Phillips, President, Rotary Club, Albert Park:

The subject of the book is fascinating, as was Robin’s address. Robin is a very accomplished speaker… Her presentation was crisp and to the point, but delicately avoided the politics of the situation in (2012) Australia. We were all impressed to say the least, and may of us bought her book on the night.


Margaret McClintock, Member of U3A and Amnesty International, Batemans Bay:

In small country towns to have a visit from a speaker of Robin’s calibre is a treat for those thirsting for accurate information.


Helen Fulton, Library Co-ordinator, Thirroul District Community Centre & Library:

Robin spoke at Thirroul Library in early 2013. She was an articulate and enthusiastic speaker and the audience were very connected to her account of the telling of Ali Al Jenabi’s story. Her passion and commitment to making Ali’s story known were obvious and I mentioned to her that it would be an excellent film or TV series. Robin’s knowledge of the legal and political situation at the time added greatly to the experience of those attending her talk.


Pauline McLeod, Margaret River Bookshop and Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival:

 Robin has been to Margaret River twice. Her first visit was to speak to an audience in our bookshop and very recently Robin returned as a keynote guest author at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival.

Both addresses were very successful with the audience deeply engaged in Robin’s delivery and content—her book  The People Smuggler. The issue of refugees to Australia is

a controversial with significant media hype. So the audience found it very grounding and valuable to hear the real story of one family’s desperate attempts to seek refuge in Australia.

Her content is thought-provoking. As testament to her work, The People Smuggler, is a best seller in our bookshop. I would like to see it made into a film.

I can highly recommend Robin as a guest speaker.


Kelly Morris, Community Programs Coordinator, Adelaide Hills Council:

An audience of 80 people were completely captivated by Robin de Crespigny's insights and storytelling at the Coventry Library in Stirling South Australia.


Eira Clapton, Justice and Mission Assistant, Uniting Church in Western Australia:

CARAD and the Social Justice Board of the Uniting Church in Australia Synod of Western Australia greatly enjoyed having Robin de Crespigny speak to us at an event we hosted.

Robin is a passionate and engaging speaker. Her book brings much-needed perspective to the asylum seeker problem in Australian politics.

Our audience responded very well to Robin and we would recommend her as a speaker to others.



Viewers of Robin's talk at Inverloch Library:

I think listening to Robin talk about asylum seekers gave me more information than I’ve heard from the politicians over many years! It certainly made me have a rethink about ‘boat people’ – with more compassion than I had before. In parts, what she spelt out was horrific – the stuff of nightmares ... In my opinion Robin is a great speaker. 

I was fortunate enough to be at Inverloch Library on Tuesday to hear the remarkable Robin de Crespigny read from her book "The People Smuggler" and tell how she came to write about the heart stopping life of Ali Al Jenabi. Robin spoke so compassionately and compellingly, but it was her reading of the book written in the first person that brought me undone. I can't see how anyone could not be moved and inspired by her remarkable work. With her commitment to a fairer and more compassionate Australia, I have some optimism for a kinder Australia.


A great and engaging presentation and hats off for the author who can write a biography in the first person, which made this story even more convincing and powerful.

I found Robin de Crespigny's talk extremely interesting, enlightening and thought-provoking. She spoke passionately and intimately about a humanitarian issue that we often only hear about in clichés. I had no hesitation in buying her book. It is most likely a "must read" for all of us.


I thought Robin was an excellent speaker. She was very passionate and researched her book well. She gave me a new perspective on this very controversial topic. I bought the book and look forward to reading it.


After Robin’s talk our Book Discussion Group at Inveloch LIbrary decided to discuss The People Smuggler at our next meeting.