15 Books and Stories about Immigration

Books and Stories about Immigration

We knew we wanted to tackle this important topic during the election month because it’s such an important factor in our country. We have always prided ourselves on being a “melting pot” of populations in this country. Our history is built on immigration and yet our recent policies around migrants are controversial. As we explore the migrant experience in America this month, we encourage you to look closely at the policies in your states and learn more. Below is our list of 15 books about immigration from historical to modern fiction to non-fiction stories.

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Books about Immigration

the joy luck club by amy tanJoy Luck Club: A Novel by Amy Tan

A story about four mother-daughter pairs who recently immigrated to San Franciso from China, this is such a classic that it’s often seen on required reading lists for high schools. The story is spread over 40 years starting in 1949 and is often time profound in its examination of the mother/daughter dynamic.

americanah by chimamanda ngozi adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is the classic story of a fantastic book read and the wrong time.  This book tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze who are young and in love when they leave war-torn Nigeria.  Ifemelu comes to the United States and despite plans to follow her, Obinze cannot come to post 9/11 America.  This is a saga that takes place over a 15 year period when Ifemelu and Obinze are reunited in Nigeria.  It is intense and deeply emotional.  In truth, it was too much for me to handle this month.  I read this book with a very heavy heart as it seemed like tragedy after tragedy befell these two individuals.  However, with that said, this book is amazingly written and a true work of art.

exit west by mohsin hamidExit West by Mohsin Hamid

I have so many thoughts about Exit West by Mohsin Hamid but, I am not sure how to express them all. I am not even sure that I can express them coherently.  This is not a long book but it doesn’t need to be to make a profound statement about the world that we live in.  Part love story, part melancholy of a war-torn world, and part surrealism, this story will carry the reader through a rainbow of emotions before the end.

Behold the dreamersBehold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbueir?source=bk&t=beyondth06 20&bm id=default&l=ktl&linkId=dba13039ec875b3156b8d176c78423d2& cb=1575250961487

This story was recommended to me so often in the past few years – and it’s an Oprah pick so I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. My library hold finally came due and I finally took the plunge. WHAT TOOK ME SO LONG? Honestly, I love this story about immigration, Wall Street, and the American dream. At a time when election coverage is ramping up, this book seems so relevant. Jeni and Nedi’s story about their move from Cameroon and how it affects their marriage and their morals was compulsively readable. I couldn’t put it down. Don’t wait as long as I did.

DominicanaDominicana by Angie Cruzir?source=bk&t=beyondth06 20&bm id=default&l=ktl&linkId=03ef7179220c09c53956bda2747cc368& cb=1569462076141

Thanks to Libro.Fm and  Flatiron for my copy. All opinions are my own. I was blown away by  Cruz’s latest novel which explores her Dominican roots. 15-year-old Ana dreams of moving to America, envisioning a life of glamour, wealth, and freedom. She accepts the hand of a husband twice her age to fulfill her dreams but is in for quite an awakening when she makes it to the Bronx. Her immigrant story was filled with strength and courage as over the course of a year-and-a-half meek Ana is molded into a strong woman. Miserable in her life, Ana is forced to choose between duty to her family and her dreams.

Migrating to Prison

Migrating to Prison by César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández

I initially picked up this non-fiction book as research for November’s reading challenge prompt. I kept reading because I learned so much about just how much our prison system needs to be reform, how unfair we are as a country to immigrants, and how we need to pay close attention to the politics surrounding migrants and their treatment.

411a38YSkkLDrums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

I mean…does it get any better than Jamie Fraser? I think not. The fourth book in the Outlander series, sees our main characters making a new life for themselves as Scottish immigrants in a pre-Revoluntary War America. We see them try to fit in and our country’s unfortunate history with the Native American people. 

hotel on the corner of bitter and sweet by jamie fordHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Two lovers are separated in the mists of war and are reunited later in life. The relationship between the characters is reminiscent of Outlander. The story is all about the treatment of Japanese immigrants in the United States during World War 2. I had no idea about the darker side of our country (and the internment camps) until I read this book. It was eye-opening.

cutting for stone by abraham vergheseCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (541 pages)

Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers who are born secretly to a nun and a surgeon.  Twins seem to be a theme in our list of books since this is the third book with twins in it! Set over three decades from Ethiopia to America. This is another epic family saga that is not to be missed.

Map of Salt and Stars, A Woman is No Man, Behold the Dreamers, Cutting for Stone and more books about immigration. Map of Salt and Stars, A Woman is No Man, Behold the Dreamers, Cutting for Stone and more books about immigration. Map of Salt and Stars, A Woman is No Man, Behold the Dreamers, Cutting for Stone and more books about immigration. 15 books about immigration including Transcendent Kingdom, The Last Story of Mina Lee, Cutting for Stone and more! 15 books about immigration including Transcendent Kingdom, The Last Story of Mina Lee, Cutting for Stone and more! 15 books about immigration including Transcendent Kingdom, The Last Story of Mina Lee, Cutting for Stone and more! Map of Salt and Stars, A Woman is No Man, Behold the Dreamers, Cutting for Stone and more books about immigration. 15 books about immigration including Transcendent Kingdom, The Last Story of Mina Lee, Cutting for Stone and more!
American Dirt

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings

January 2020 Oprah’s Book Club Pick

The story starts with Lydia and her 8-year-old son Luca as they hide from the cartel who are massacring their entire extended family. The opening is heart pounding and the jolt it gives to your heart never lets up. ⁣

Lydia and Luca then have to make the perilous journey North as migrants. What they go through as they try to outrun the cartel is devastating, thought-provoking, and scary. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I never knew that a scene about putting a bandaid on a blister could be so suspenseful.⁣ I don’t want to tell any details because this story is about the unfolding of real-time events and the backstory that lead to the massacre.

My heart did not stop pounding the entire time I read this book.  I know that there is a lot of controversy surrounding this book.  However, I read this book for what it was- a work of fiction rather than non-fiction.

mina lee

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

The story of Mina Lee and her daughter, Margot, reflex the Korean immigrant experience and closely examines how the child of an immigrant can assimilate more easily into American culture. Part mystery, part exploration of the mother-daughter relationship, you’ll get a clear picture of the struggles migrants face once they make it to America

Transcendent Kingdom  and more of the best books of 2020

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

September 2020 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick

Covering drug addiction, immigration, racism, and more, this story is as entertaining as it is stimulating. Its discussion of drug addiction’s impact on the larger family unit was reminiscent of Long Bright River.

I also kept having to remind myself that it was a contemporary fiction story and not a memoir because the emotion and knowledge expressed in the book were so believable.⁣ This is one of the books about grief that you must-read.

the girl in white gloves

The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher

This is a bit of a different migrant story as we see Princess Grace give up her American roots in order to assimilate into Monaco. I absolutely adored this royal read about Grace Kelly and had trouble putting it down. The storyline is split between Grace’s rise to Hollywood stardom and her future as a settled in Princess. The writing was so captivating that I found myself sneaking pages on my kindle all over town.  Kerri Maher brought Grace Kelly to life in this book about her life. I had no idea about her home life struggles, her many romances, or the state of her marriage to Rainer.

51B rPb8zIL

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

This book is about Syrian life and a modern-day refugee seeking safety.  The story is spliced in with another taking place centuries before – a mythical adventurer looking to learn the map-making trade. War-torn Syria is hard to read about, but the mapmaker’s tale helps lessen some of the heavier moments.

You will be rooting for both heroines in this moving tale destined for our list of books that will emotionally wreck you.

Nonfiction Immigration Stories

My Side of the River

My Side of the River: A Memoir by Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez

This gripping memoir of Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez and her experience living in the U.S. when her parents were forced back to Mexico was a one-siting read for me. Born in America to illegal immigrants, she was just 15 years old when her parents couldn’t get their visitor’s visas renewed, leaving Elizabeth responsible for her young brother in America.

Soon her brother is reunited with her parents while Elizabeth is left to couch surf as she tries to graduate High School in the hopes of making it to an Ivy League college and better the lives of her entire family in the process.

Why We Like it Elizabeth’s candid, vulnerability shines a light on the hardships immigrant families face in both facing prejudice and gaining access to the American dream. Her story is a true testament to grit and survival in the face of adversity.

We are not from here

We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Wowza. This is the book American Dirt should have been, an own-voices tale of the migrant journey into the USA. This tale doesn’t give erroneous detail to lighten the load of the harrowing, impossible journey to the north.

Instead, it delivers staggering truths of how and why migrants risk their lives for the possibility of a better life. It’s a must-read for anyone looking to learn more about immigration in America.

Infinite Country

Infinite Country by Patrica Engel

March 2021 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick

This story of an immigrant family split apart by US policy and ICE had such potential, but I had trouble keeping the timeline and the characters all straight in my head.

It’s told from the mother, father, and one daughter’s point of view. The struggles of a husband and wife separated for almost a decade were heartbreaking, but the way it was laid out had me confused and frustrated.

the mango tree

The Mango Tree by Annabelle Tometich

Annabelle opens this memoir with the arrest of her mother for shooting at someone who was plucking mangos off her beloved tree. But then the story returns to Annabelle’s struggles as a child to live an average life with her fellow Floridians, while her mother can’t seem to acclimate to American society at all.

Most compelling were the chapters when Annabelle travels with her mother to her ancestral hometown in the Philippines. Never was the dichotomy of her family’s perception of her American life compared to her lived reality more strongly present than in these chapters.

Why I Liked It: I found Annabelle’s story captivating from the open moments of the “your mom’s been arrested” phone call she receives. It was eye-opening to see the realities of what so many immigrants suffer in their quest to live the American Dream, while also being the hope for their families still living abroad.

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