It is all the more important now to read and promote marginalized voices. Events like the Syrian refugee situation, the Trump administration’s travel ban, and the vote for Brexit proved that the global work of diversity is unfinished. Highlighting stories of refugees, migrants, and people of color is never more important than it is now, in times facing a rise in nationalism, bigotry and racial prejudice.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue This delectable novel, set in early 2008, tells the story of a young Cameroonian couple. They have arrived to New York to make a new life for their family, just as the world is bracing for an economic meltdown. Imbolo vividly evokes their journey from awestruck naivety to newfound wariness as they realize just how difficult life as an immigrant is.
The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang This self-assured, witty debut about a Chinese-American family is also set in a panic-stricken America after the 2008 recession. Here, business mogul Charles and his family struggle to grapple with the drastic change in their lifestyle after the economic crash. This riches-to-rags story takes scathing potshots at the complicated sham of the American Dream and shrewdly depicts America’s self-indulgent capitalist society. The Wangs is an original take on the immigrant narrative, and definitely one of the best books I read last year.
The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies This intelligently written, multigenerational novel tells the story of three Chinese-American immigrants, beginning from Lincoln’s presidency to this day. With a story spanning over 150 years, The Fortunes gives perceptive insight into the complex aspects of being a Chinese-American, especially when it comes to the classic struggle between fitting in and maintaining their identity. Based on four distinct life stories, this book gives a broad perspective on immigration and will especially appeal to fans of The Sympathizer.
The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla This book created a huge buzz back in U.K. when it first came out and deservedly so. Edited by Nikesh Shukla, The Good Immigrant consists of essays by 21 British black, Asian, and other minority voices. These essays vary from being polemic and harrowing to humorous and amusing. A very relevant book for our times, it provides a much-needed platform for marginalized narratives.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien This Booker-shortlisted epic recounts the story of generations of musicians, spanning from Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the mid-20th century to after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Marie, the daughter of Chinese-Canadian immigrants, sets out to understand his father’s and his ancestors’ life after he commits suicide. While the bulk of the novel consists of their stories, Marie’s portions in which she feels the uneasiness and absence of history, having grown up in Canada, are the most affecting.
The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin This darkly comic but illuminating story is about a Chinese immigrant who works as an investigative reporter in New York. The Boat Rocker addresses timely issues like the true cost of freedom of press and nationalism. It provides astute commentary into the sometimes fractious political climate between China and United States.
The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam This brief, profound book is not your usual migrant story. Set over the period of a single day in a refugee camp and against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war, it tells of a desperate father who asks Dinesh to marry his only surviving daughter, Ganga. Dinesh somberly accepts the proposal. Anuk viscerally describes the experience of staying alive in the face of constant terror. This deeply moving story offers a vivid glimpse into the brutality of war and our primal, human urge to survive.
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio This extraordinary family saga tells of a small Cuban family and the impact of Mariel Boatlift on their relationship dynamics. The father, Uxbal Encarnación, who is also a political insurgent, refuses to leave his political ideals and homeland. Soledad Encarnacion, wife of this Cuban rebel, takes her children to Connecticut to embark on a new life. Palacio’s raw and breathtaking prose follows their journeys as they grow and reform, all the while struggling to free themselves of Cuba and the memory of the man they left behind.
Deceit and Other Possibilities by Vanessa Hua This thought-provoking debut collection gives voice to immigrant families navigating a new America. These authentic and moving stories about racially diverse characters depict them trying to straddle two worlds while belonging to neither. Hua’s detached, wry observations make for compelling read and is a contemporary portrayal of life of a migrant.
Still Here by Lara Vapnyar In this funny, acutely observed novel, Lara follows the intertwined lives of four Russian friends who now have contrasting lives in America. Still Here explores their experiences with love, friendship, and ambition in this tech-crazed world. This engrossing novel is a relevant commentary of our modern age.
The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby One of the most relevant books of our time, this work of nonfiction gives a hard-hitting account of the ongoing refugee crisis. Emma, a BBC journalist, narrates the story of an Italian optician from Lampedusa, which remains an island of hope for migrants. The harrowing account of his refugee rescue mission is told in a riveting, novelistic style. The Optician of Lampedusa is an important read, a powerful work that humanizes the enormity of the global refugee crisis.