17 Books That Perfectly Capture The Immigrant Experience

These authors share fiction and non-fiction about staying afloat in the system.

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1. Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie (2013)

This is a story about a young Nigerian woman who emigrates to the U.S. from Nigeria, leaving her college boyfriend behind, with the hope of a better education and ultimately, a good life. Despite her academic success, she is faced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time.

2. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (1994)

This novel begins as an essay of a young Sophie Caco being sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York at age 12, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There, she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti, to the women who first reared her.

3. The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven (2013)

NAL Publishing / Via marivisoliven.com

Banished by her Filipino family in Manila, Amparo Guerrero travels to California to forge a new life. As Amparo works to build the immigrant’s dream, she becomes entangled in the chaos of another girl's immigrant nightmare. Their collision forces both of them to make choices and confront a life-changing secret.

4. Almost A Woman by Esmeralda Santiago (1998)

Da Capo Press / Via esmeraldasantiago.com

Esmeralda Santiago delivers the tale of her young adulthood, where she continually strives to find a balance between becoming American and staying Puerto Rican. She begins to defy her mother's protective rules, only to find that independence brings new dangers and dilemmas.

5. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)

Calliope Stephanides and three generations of his Greek-American family, travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City and the race riots of 1967 before moving out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

6. My New American Life By Francine Prose (2011)

A young Albanian immigrant named Lula is working as a nanny for a teenager in a quiet, New Jersey suburb. Her boss has offered to help her get a green card, so Lula waits and waits, until one day, three visitors, unannounced, knock on the door. Will Lula be deported? Are they long-lost Albanian family? Through Lula’s eyes, we see the promise of the American dream as well as the ways it might never come true.

7. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (2010)

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn, she begins a secret double life: Exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker at night. Disguising the difficult truths of her life, like the staggering degree of her poverty and the weight of her family's future on her shoulders, Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

8. The Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska (1925)

Persea Publishers

The story's set in the 1920s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and tells the story of Sara Smolinsky, the youngest daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, who rebels against her father's rigid conception of Jewish womanhood. Sarah's struggle towards independence and self-fulfillment resonates with a passion all can share.

9. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu (2007)

17 years ago, Sepha Stephanos fled the Ethiopian Revolution after witnessing soldiers beat his father to the point of certain death. Now he finds himself running a grocery store in a poor African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C. He realizes that his life has turned out completely different and far more isolated from the one he had imagined for himself years ago.

10. The Good Braider by Terry Farish (2012)

Skyscape / Via terryfarish.com

Viola's strikingly original voice sings out the story of her family's journey from war-torn Sudan, to Cairo, and finally to Portland, Maine. Here, she dreams of South Sudan while she tries to navigate the strange world of America — a world that puts her into conflict with her traditional mother who, like Viola, is struggling to braid together the strands of a displaced life.

11. Inside Out And Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2011)

This is the story of Ha and her family being forced to move to the United States because the Vietnam War had reached their home. Fleeing home,they spend few months at a refugee camp before moving to Alabama. She struggles with learning English and bullies. Eventually, she pushes throug hard times with the help of their next door neighbor, Mrs. Washington.

12. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez (1991)

Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the Garcia sisters arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence of maids, manicures, and extended family they left behind. What they have lost — and what they find — is revealed in the 15 interconnected stories that make up this exquisite novel.

13. The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez (2014)

The Riveras move from Mexico to Delaware so their brain-injured daughter can attend a special school. They move into an apartment building filled with other recent immigrants. The families become more closely tied with another than anyone ever expected. These stories are suspenseful, poignant and vividly illustrate a variety of immigrant experiences.

14. The Secret Side Of Empty by Maria E. Andreu (2014)

Running Press Kids / Via mariaeandreu.com

Monserrat Thalia is finishing up her senior year of high school. While her classmates are anticipating college, she dreads the end of high school for one reason: she is "illegal." She has no legal papers, and that means no college, no jobs, and no future. Somehow, she needs to figure out how to make a life for herself in this country.

15. The Consequences of Love by Sulaiman Addonia (2008)

Sulaiman Addonia / Via blogger.com

Naser is a young African immigrant who works the carwash in downtown Jeddah. Naser learns to despise and fear the hate-mongering local imam, merciless religious police and powerful men who lust after boys with impunity. When a young woman drops a love letter at his feet, he's quickly smitten.

16. On Black Sister’s Street by Chika Unigwe (2007)

On Black Sisters Street tells the haunting story of four very different women who have left their African homeland for the riches of Europe — and who are thrown together by bad luck and big dreams into a sisterhood that will change their lives.

17. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)

The novel describes the struggles and hardships of a Bengali couple who immigrate to the United States to form a life outside of everything they are accustomed to. Ashoke and Ashima leave Calcutta and settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Through a series of errors, their son's nickname, Gogol, becomes his official birth name, an event that will shape many aspects of his life in years to come.

Know of any other great titles? Feel free to add some more recommendations in the comments below!

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