BY kama dc team
There’s nothing quite like a good book to bring a feeling, a culture or an experience to life. For immigrants and refugees, the journey that they take when moving to a new country is different for every individual, yet the themes that often accompany stories of immigration are universal — identity, culture, language, loss, triumph, loneliness, community, family, love.
This October, in honor of National Book Month, the volunteers at KAMA DC wanted to share with you some of our favorite stories written by immigrants and their children that touch on the experience of immigrants and refugees and all of the hardships and triumphs that accompany them.
We also encourage you to purchase from local bookstores or check them out from your public library for free! By purchasing from local bookstores, you are not only helping to support the local community, but also more of your purchase will go toward the author. Check out our list of some local DMV bookstores at the bottom of this page.
Without further ado, here is our list of 11 books written by immigrants and their children that we recommend:
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
“Ocean Vuong’s remarkable debut novel captures the violence of surviving as an immigrant in America. It is a letter from Little Dog, whose life closely resembles Vuong’s own, to his illiterate mother. Vuong is a poet and much of his writing feels more like poetry than prose. Though sometimes dense and often harrowing, the novel ultimately allows the narrator to reconcile the pain and grief of Little Dog’s relationships.” - Will T.
The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar
“An unforgettable book that skillfully maps the journey of Nour and her family as they flee Syria at the start of the 2011 Arab Spring, and how their travel reflects the journey of Rawiya, a young woman who travelled across the Middle East and North Africa 800 years previously. The story beautifully juxtaposes the rich history of the Middle East, the bliss ignorance of childhood, and the dark realities that face refugees.” - Ben
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
“Interior Chinatown is a book that asks to be read in a single sitting. Written in a format more akin to a television screenplay, Charles Yu's Chinatown breathlessly moves from scene to scene and character to character, exploring the insidious and painful and sometimes farcical stereotypes that seem to color the thoughts and behaviors of every character in the novel, even the folks whose backgrounds are not shared by the protagonist. He gives voice to the background characters of our society, revealing a world of whimsy and tragedy and above all, humanity, to people marginalized and burdened by the curse of expectations.” - Will L.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
“Perfect for young adults or those that love a beautiful coming-of-age story with just a hint of magic — Zoboi masterfully weaves Haitian vodou and culture into the gritty Detroit streets that our main character, Fabiola, finds herself in. At times heartbreaking, but always full of love and family, American Street is a meditation on what it means to leave somewhere in search of a better life and find yourself amidst yet another disenfranchised community.” - Allie
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
“‘History has failed us, but no matter,’ is the opening line of Pachinko. This is Min Jin Lee's middle finger to history, which has often failed to record the lives and trials of ordinary people. We follow generations of this family as they navigate the hardships under the Japanese rule of Korea and integration as immigrants in Japan. Through the lense of one family, we face cultural, racial, and ethnic bias that reverberates through their tragic lives. As I read, I found myself constantly hoping for that fairytale ending — for a rags to riches story — but this novel is ultimately grounded in its realism.” - Dana
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“The novel explores the vastly different perspectives of the three main characters and their relationships to the war and each other as they experience profound love, loss, fear, and betrayal. Throughout the novel, Adichie writes both beautifully about Nigeria — transporting the reader to the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes of her home country — and with brutal honesty about the devastating costs of the war on the individual lives of the characters and the country as a whole.” - Alayna
“What does it mean to see? In this heart wrenching and compassionate novel, we travel with Afra and Nuri as they flee their destroyed ordinary lives in war-torn Syria and seek asylum in the United Kingdom. The reader experiences first-hand the terror, enduring trauma, and overwhelming odds against their survival as they escape across countries trying to find a new life and each other in the process. The reader must ask themselves ‘Do we really see and understand the plight of refugees?’” - Sarah
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
"As an Asian-American, this book perfectly and poignantly verbalizes my own wrestling and understanding of the conflicted position of Asian-Americans in the racial and capital hierarchy of America. I have felt all spectrums of emotions when reading this — from crying when reading how her parents debased themselves in the face of whiteness to pure puzzlement when learning of Black, white, and Asian racial triangulation. I absolutely loved this book — I cannot recommend it enough!" - Angie
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
“During an era of collective trauma, Gyasi’s work explores grief as an experience shaped by culture, curiosity and community. Transcendent Kingdom is definitive proof that we contain multitudes, and that it’s perfectly natural to want to yell at God. Equal parts scientific and spiritual, this book is for anyone who feels torn between wanting an escape from the world’s current narrative and searching for answers to life’s biggest questions.” - Halah
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
“This memoir reads beautifully as Michelle reflects on her perceived failures as both a daughter and child of Korean lineage — grappling with all of this all while her life is transformed by her mother's illness and ultimate death. By exposing her life, insecurities, and relationships to us through her writing, the reader is left hoping that Michelle was able to find strength in that ultimate vulnerability.” - Dana
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez
“The book doesn’t promote a saccharine view of the American dream, but rather a realistic portrayal into the motivations and decisions, both life-altering and mundane, that make up the immigrant experience. As one character says, ‘I know some people here think we’re trying to take over, but we just want to be a part of it. We want to have our stake. This is our home, too.’ Through hardship and heartbreak, we witness the characters claim — or sometimes give up — their stake in this home.” - Karelia
Local Bookstores to Support in the DMV: