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Biography & Autobiography Asian & Asian American

Prisoner #1056

How I Survived War and Found Peace

by (author) Roy Ratnavel

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Apr 2023
Asian & Asian American, Survival, Business
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2023
    List Price

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An incredible immigrant story from a prominent Canadian Tamil who fled torture and imprisonment, arrived in Canada with $50 in his pocket, then rose from the mailroom to the executive suite of the country’s largest independent asset management company.

Roy Ratnavel’s astonishing journey began at age seventeen, when he was seized by government soldiers and interned in a notorious prison camp for no reason other than being born a Tamil. He saw friends die, and was tortured for a few months—until an unlikely encounter allowed him to send a message beyond the prison walls, which led to his release.

Seeing nothing but more danger in his son’s future, Ratnavel’s father sought refuge for his son in Canada, far from the ethnic violence that was consuming Sri Lanka. When the consular immigration officer asked for proof that the boy’s life was at risk in his homeland, Ratnavel simply lifted his shirt to show the man his unhealed scars. It wasn’t long before he was on a plane. His father was shot and killed three days later.

To repay the debt he owed to his hero of a father, Ratnavel was determined to find the bright future that had been envisioned for him. He went to night school, worked three jobs at a time, and lived in a tiny space with seven housemates. Ratnavel persevered, and he hustled. He accepted no charity, even from relatives, but he made the most of the opportunities set in his path, the mentorship offered by those Canadians who recognized his potential, and by his new homeland, a country shaped by openness, tolerance, and a commitment to merit.

Prisoner #1056 is not only a moving immigrant success story and a searing account of surviving unimaginable injustice and trauma—it is an urgent warning that the dark forces of populism that tore apart the once-prosperous island of Sri Lanka can do their ugly work in Western societies too. Passionate, raw, thoughtful, and far-seeing, Prisoner #1056 makes the case that our destiny is in our own hands.

About the author

Contributor Notes

ROY RATNAVEL was born in 1969 in the capital city of Colombo, Sri Lanka. At the age of seventeen, he became a political prisoner, and spent grueling months in brutal and oppressive conditions. After his miraculous release from prison, he arrived in Canada all alone at the age of eighteen. Ratnavel is now an executive at Canada’s largest independent asset management company. He is an accidental Sri Lankan by birth, an unapologetic Tamil by heritage, and a proud Canadian by choice. Prisoner #1056 is his first book. Ratnavel currently resides in Toronto with his wife and son.

Editorial Reviews


“Millions of people fleeing countries less fortunate have found here in Canada a refuge from mistrust and hatred and violence which has allowed them to achieve their potential in the rich soil of our freedom. Roy’s life is one such story. While Roy’s remarkable personal journey is unique to him, reading his book one cannot help but hear a familiar refrain that will resonate with millions of Canadians, because at its core it is the story of the immigrant experience. And in the final analysis, we are all children of immigrants.”
—The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, 18th Prime Minister of Canada

“Pick up this book and you’ll feel like taking on the world. Roy Ratnavel’s story proves that you really do make your own luck, that you really can make it to the top with hard work—and that there are still people out there with the courage to speak their minds. An exciting, thoughtful, inspiring read.”
—Jeff Rubin, bestselling author of The Expendables
“A stirring struggle to forge promise and purpose from a life scarred by pain, and to bridge two worlds with compassion and hustle learned in each of them. Ratnavel shows we can pull each other up by our bootstraps.”
—James Bradshaw, reporter for The Globe and Mail