Reading Challenge: An Immigrant Story

When 12-year-old Kimberly and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn, Kimberly quickly assumed a double life: model student by day, Chinatown sweatshop worker by night. Kwok emigrated herself as a young girl, and her own immigrant experience imbues this plucky story with the ring of truth. Participating in the 2019 MMD Reading Challenge? This could absolutely be a book you read for the cover.
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The follow-up to Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize-winning debut, Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri tells the story of the Ganguli family. Following their arranged marriage, husband and wife travel from Calcutta to Massachusetts and struggle to become Americans. It's complicated enough when it's just the two of them, but when they have a son, the generational clash heightens the burden of assimilation—for all three of them.
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A Book of the Month selection, which I've been meaning to read since The Tenement Museum in NYC called it a must-read immigrant story. The publisher calls this "a compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy." A 2016 Book of the Year for all kinds of publications.
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The publisher calls this "an unforgettable story of friendship and second chances that highlights a little-known but historically significant movement in America’s past." Everyone I know is reading this for book club.
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From the publisher: "A classic portrayal of the struggles of immigrants in the great plains of America. O Pioneers! is considered to be one of Willa Cather's greatest works. It is the story of Alexandra Bergson, a young girl who arrives in the prairie frontier of Hanover, Nebraska and grows up to build a prosperous farm. It is a story of success in the face of tragedy and the growth of a young woman along the way." Add Audible narration for $2.99.
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In Alexander's words: "The story seems to begin with catastrophe but in fact began earlier and is not a tragedy but rather a love story." The author's husband died just four days after his fiftieth birthday. A few years later, Alexander looks back on their life together, their love, and the impact of that loss in her life. The author is a poetry professor at Yale, which is obvious in the story's richness and language. Her source material is fantastic: Alexander is an American, born in Harlem. Her husband was born in Eritrea, in East Africa, and came to New Haven as a refugee from war. Both were artists—that’s his painting on the cover of the book—and their home sounds like this amazing, vibrant, multicultural extravaganza with food and friends and music and art. I could barely put this down, and while sad, it exudes joy. Heads up for audiophiles: Alexander's narration of her own work is magnificent. Published April 15 2015.
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In this sweeping domestic drama, Lee tracks four generations of a 20th-century Korean family back to the time when Japan annexed the country in 1910, affecting the fates of all. Lee portrays the struggles of one struggling Korean family against the backdrop of cultural and political unrest, as they endure fierce discrimination at the ends of the Japanese. A compelling portrait of a little-explored period of history.
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From the publisher: "The lives of a sixteen-year-old Nigerian orphan and a well-off British woman collide in this page-turning #1 New York Times bestseller and book club favorite from Chris Cleave."
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Oprah called Hyeonseo Lee's "the most riveting TED talk ever." From the publisher: "As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told 'the best on the planet'? She began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. This is the unique story not only of Hyeonseo's escape from the darkness into the light but also of her coming of age and education and the resolve she found to rebuild her life."
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One of the most recommended books on the What Should I Read Next podcast, this novel-in-stories tracks three generations of Indian women and their fraught relationships. The title comes from a chance encounter one of these women has with a stranger, which is fitting because my favorite parts of the story deal with the small moments that change the course of a person's life, and the unlikely friendships that do the same. Chatting with the author for the MMD Book Club only heightened my appreciation for the story.
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Publishers Weekly says this is, "Trigiani's page-turning newest… a sweeping saga… More than an epic romance, Trigiani's work pays homage to the tribulations of the immigrant experience, and the love that makes the journey and hardships worthwhile."
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I began this earlier this year. Lakshmi isn't a natural writer, but her history makes up for it. The woman has an impressive c.v.: cookbook author, supermodel, Top Chef judge, fashion columnist, wife of Salman Rushdie. Kirkus calls this "an intimate, revealing portrait, far different from the woman blazoned in the tabloids."
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In Hamid's latest novel, a finalist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, two young people meet and find love during a time of great political unrest in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. As violence simmers and then explodes into war, they survey their options and make the difficult decision to flee the city, perhaps taking advantage of the rumored doors that open almost magically into other lands, like Syria or San Francisco. An evocative story improved by the restrained element of magical realism, and strongly reminiscent of The Underground Railroad. I recommend this book to Laura Tremaine in episode 68 of What Should I Read Next.
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A widower who was raised to believe in propriety above all falls hopelessly in love with someone who is completely wrong for him—at least by the standards of his small English village. A winsome story with an unlikely hero.
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This has been on my TBR for a while, because so many historical fiction fans recommended this to me as Meissner's best novel. The action goes back and forth in time between two women, a century apart, who are linked by a beautiful scarf and by their unlikely survival in two devastating tragedies in New York City. Meissner's tone makes this an easy, enjoyable read despite the tough subject matter—I read this in a day.
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Yoon's latest is a YA novel with ALL THE FEELS. Daniel and Natasha meet and fall in love over the course of one whirlwind day in NYC, the day before her family is set to be deported to Jamaica; they lack the documentation to stay. In his own way, Daniel is also trapped: his Korean family has big plans for his future, plans that don't align with what he wants for himself. Yoon tackles serious issues here—identity, family, fate—but she does it with such a light touch, it almost reads as breezy. I read this in an afternoon.
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I've heard to start this book with no preconceptions because the description doesn't do it justice. Suffice it to say that this novel has been recommended by fellow readers with great taste who describe it using my favorite adjectives: haunting, sweeping, gorgeous.
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USA Today calls this "[a] triumph… One of those magically quiet novels that sneak up on readers and capture their imaginations." Add Audible narration for $10.99.
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Kerr draws on her own experiences as a Jewish child in Germany: Kerr was born in Berlin, the daughter of an established German writer, but her own family fled the country in 1933 as the political situation became increasingly dangerous. A gentle and compassionate introduction to World War II history. From the publisher: "Suppose your country began to change. Suppose that without your noticing, it became dangerous for some people to live in Germany any longer. Suppose you found, to your complete surprise, that your own father was one of those people. That is what happened to Anna in 1933."
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I loved this. (Although breezy reading it is not.) From Publishers Weekly: "In this beautifully written, emotionally rich memoir… Mayfield's close observation of the journey of refugees trying to make a new life abroad while desperately missing the homes they were forced to abandon is required reading in an age of increased turmoil surrounding the status of refugees worldwide."
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Wanda Petronski is a Polish girl in a Connecticut school whose classmates make fun of her for wearing the same old dress every day. Wanda defends herself by saying she has a hundred dresses at home, but nobody believes her. When Wanda moves away, her classmates feel terrible--but it’s too late to make things right, even though they now know the truth behind Wanda’s claim. A poignant, beautiful book. Age 6 and up.
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People magazine called it, "An unforgettable novel about a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century, told “with humor and optimism…through the eyes of an irresistible heroine—from the acclaimed author of The Red Tent."
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This is Nigerian novelist Adichie’s third novel, but the first I've read. The story centers around a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. After university, she travels to America for postgraduate work, where she endures several years of near-destitution, and a horrific event that upends her world. She finds her way, winning a fellowship at Princeton, and gaining acclaim for her blog, called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black." A highlight: Adichie seamlessly weaves blog posts—about race, national identity, class, poverty, and hair—into the narrative. The novel grapples with difficult issues without becoming overwrought. I would not have read this based on the flap copy, but I was hooked from page one. Haunting, moving, incredibly well done. Terrific on audio.
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