5 New Books that Explore the American Immigrant Experience

No one gets to choose when or where to be born, but what happens after that is what you can imagine.” -Abdi Nor Iftin

What a special kind of magic it is to open a book and be transported to another time and place. While this is true of all kinds of stories, it is especially true of stories written by immigrants and their families, who have unique and inspiring experiences to share. While some writers chronicle the difficult and dangerous paths that came before, many others use literature as a way to navigate the challenges of adapting to a new place and culture. These are the stories of those who come from another place and now call America home. These are stories of America.

America Is Not the Heart 

The Philippines is a land of many languages, all of which make an appearance in Castillo’s marvelous family novel. In addition to Spanish and English, Ilocano, Tagalog, and Pangasinan are also spoken in the Philippines. Multiple languages mean there are multiple ways to have communication issues, especially when that communication is among family members or between lovers.

America for Beginners

Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkata to New York to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. 

Call Me American

Abdi Nor Iftin fell in love with America from afar. As a child, he learned English by listening to Michael Jackson and watching films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. When U.S. Marines landed in Mogadishu to take on the warlords, Abdi cheered the arrival of these real Americans, who seemed as heroic as those of the movies. Sporting American clothes and dance moves, he became known around Mogadishu as Abdi American, but when the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab rose to power in 2006, it suddenly became dangerous to celebrate Western culture. Desperate to make a living, Abdi used his language skills to post secret dispatches to NPR and the Internet, which found an audience of worldwide listeners. But as life in Somalia grew more dangerous, Abdi was left with no choice but to flee to Kenya as a refugee. In an amazing stroke of luck, Abdi won entrance to the U.S. in the annual visa lottery, though his route to America was filled with twists and turns and a harrowing sequence of events that nearly stranded him in Nairobi. Now a proud resident of Maine and on the path to citizenship, Iftin's dramatic, deeply stirring memoir is truly a story for our time: a vivid reminder of why western democracies still beckon to those looking for a better life.

The Other Americans

A timely and powerful new novel about the suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant that is at once a family saga, a murder mystery, and a love story, all of it informed by the treacherous fault lines of American culture. Nora, a jazz composer, returns home to a small town in the Mojave after hearing that her father has been killed in a suspicious hit-and-run car accident. Told by multiple narrators- Nora herself, Jeremy (the Iraq war veteran with whom she develops an intimacy), widow Maryam, Efrain (an immigrant witness to the accident who refuses to get involved for fear of deportation), Coleman (the police investigator), and Driss (the dead man himself), The Other Americans deftly explores one family's secrets and hypocrisies even as it offers a portrait of Americans divided by race, class, and religion, living side by side.

Lost Children Archive

A novel about a family of four, on the cusp of fracture, who take a trip across America--a story told through varying points of view, and including archival documents and photographs. Lost Children Archive is a story of how we document our experiences, and how we remember the things that matter to us the most. Blending the personal and the political with astonishing empathy, it is a powerful, wholly original work of fiction: exquisite, provocative, and deeply moving.

On a final note, these are all excellent candidates for the 10 to Try reading challenge category: Read a book by an immigrant author. Happy reading!

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