“To say that What the Oceans Remember is engrossing reading is to do it a disservice. For, here is a topic I have no real investment in. I am not of any of Ms. Boon’s mixed background, I have very little interest in ancestry and no real desire to research it by travelling back and forth across the Atlantic ocean. Yet here I was, looking over Ms. Boon’s shoulder the entire time. I was with her in the archives as she handled papers over a century old. I was with her as she travelled the historic streets in Amsterdam and The Hague, as well as the footpaths and overgrown graveyards in Suriname. Using sights, sounds and smells of the world outside her doors and windows wherever she is living at that particular moment makes for an immersive read. Many memoirists leave such things out of their reminiscences and the resulting story is the poorer for it.”

James M. Fischer, The Miramichi Reader

“Boon’s musical training has given her an ear for subtlety in both human interaction and archival excavation for which her readers are indebted.”

Evangline Holtz Schramek, “Wayfinding in the Marginalia,” Canadian Literature

What the Oceans Remember is breathtaking in scope. Reaching across continents, oceans and histories, it shows us what it means to live in the shadow of freedom while unfree; how the colour of a person’s skin can determine if they are seen or invisible; how the word home can exclude; how the beauty of music can be a balm; how the invaluable quiet of an archive can quake with unearthed voices. Unrelentingly honest, sometimes harrowing, steeped in rich and startling insight, and conveyed in transparent prose – elegant as silk, tough as steel. ”

Lisa Moore, author of Something for Everyone

“This memoir is an exploration of memory, archival documents, and the limits of both. It’s also about music, race, lineage, inheritance, and family, and I loved it. A truly extraordinary, entrancing work.”

Kerry Clare, Author of Mitzi Bytes and blogger at


“A detailed and enthralling account of finding ancestors amid archival files from around the world, the book establishes an emotional connection that spans centuries …. Boon’s writing elevates an already excellent book into a beautiful work of literature. Her language is precise and evocative, conjuring images of ocean voyages and sun-touched skin, deep longing, horrific suffering, and resilience against all odds.”

Carolina Ciucci, Foreword Review, September/October 2019


“[a] layered, attentive, and nuanced exploration on legacy and self.”

“There’s a wealth of data here, Boon’s curiosity lured her into ship’s logs and reparation lists, cemeteries and reading rooms, always in search of the people, her family who led to her, and to where she is now. There are also repeated evocations of nostalgia, which is not just a longing for the past but a sickness for home; as the title suggests, home is conveyed in a journey, trans-versing oceans, linking continents, carried on a wave.

The book itself is a beauty, with delicate, muted photos, map and illustrations. There are personal and enlightening chapter notes (“A story that I did not include, but which is also important to the history of slavery in Suriname, is the loss of the Leusden …”), an index and a bibliography.”

Joan Sullivan, The TelegramDecember 2019


What the Oceans Remember addresses the complex and complicit question ‘Where are you from?’ by taking readers on an extraordinary trip through continents and countries, and to cities and their archives, to help us understand how the stories of our ancestors tell us something about ourselves. Boon’s exploration of the seductive spaces of the archives and the crossing of various kinds of borders brings to mind the work of Saidiya Hartman (Lose Your Mother), Maggie Nelson (The Argonauts), and complements the work of writers like Sara Ahmed as well. ”

Minelle Mahtani, University of British Columbia,
author of Mixed Race Amnesia: Resisting the Romanticization of Multiraciality, host and creator of Acknowledgements and Sense of Place


“Timely, compelling and illuminating in equal measure, What the Oceans Remember, which scrutinizes the lives and legacies of several generations of slaves and indentured labourers in Suriname, also confronts the rights and responsibilities we bear in relation to our ancestors. In this ever-questioning memoir, Sonja Boon maps emotional registers and bureaucratic statistics as honestly as she navigates theoretical currents and ethical anxiety. Weaving desire, dreams, and personal memory into the historical record, Boon succeeds admirably in making silences speak and fragments cohere in a fine example of creative non-fiction. ”

Lydia Syson, author of Mr Peacock’s Possessions