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The Immigrant Experience: A Reading List

Cassandra Neace

Staff Writer

Cassandra Neace is a high school English teacher in Houston. When she's not in the classroom, she reads books and writes about them. She prides herself on her ability to recommend a book for most any occasion. She can be found on Instagram @read_write_make

we need new names by noviolet bulawayo coverThis week’s Riot Recommendation is sponsored by We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.

But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few.





As art imitates life, literature and history are filled with people who made the difficult decision to leave their homes, their communities, and all that is familiar in hopes of making a better life elsewhere. Whether they’re in pursuit of the American dream, refuge from violence and oppression, or simply a chance to start over, characters uproot themselves and undertake trying journeys, and they don’t always like what they find when they reach their destinations.

The list that you have built covers the immigrant experience from a variety of angles, from memoirs and first-hand accounts, to stories about the children of immigrants and how their parents’ decision to move shaped their lives.  Take a look at these books about the immigrant experience:

The Boat by Nam Le

Outcasts United 

Children of the River by Linda Crew

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

The Road Home by Rose Tremain

The Gravedigger’s Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates

Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas

The Bonesetter’s Daughter and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

We Sinners by Hanna Pylväinen

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

The Bean Tree by Barabara Kingsolver

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Circuit and Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez

The Rugmaker of Mazar E Sharif by Najaf Mazar

The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do

The Walking by Laleh Khadivi

Digging To America by Anne Tyler

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

Call It Sleep by Henry Roth

The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War by Denise Chong

A Good American by Alex George

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Like Lesser Gods by Mari Tomasi

The Warrior Woman by Maxine Hong Kingston

How to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanne

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

What books would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!


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