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7 brilliant novels about migration to read now

Leaving home for new horizons can feel both exciting and terrifying; both instinctive and deeply unnatural. Often, it can seem like both an ending and a beginning. Either way, it’s a fundamental part of the human condition—and has inspired some stunning literature. Here are a few novels about migration that have made us feel like we’re not alone on our journeys.

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

This extraordinary book by Nobel Prize-winning author Olga Tokarczuk explores the human urge to move in breathtaking detail and scope. Flights (or Bieguni, as it was originally titled in Polish) recalls a sect of ‘runaways’ who believed that constant motion was the way to avoid evil. ‘It’s about the freedom of not only changing the places you live but also your culture and identity,’ says Tokarczuk. ‘The deepest level of our freedom is being able to change our identity.’

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

As migrants, we often find ourselves in two places at once. We’re searching for a better future, while yearning for the past; providing support while looking for it; and being both a parent and a child to people back home. The Best We Could Do is a graphic novel, exploring the multiple worlds we inhabit when we build a new life through a family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam. Inspiring, beautifully observed and deeply moving.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

We sometimes use the first person plural in our blog posts—but we’d never try writing a whole book with it. Somehow, Julie Otsuka pulls it off in The Buddha in the Attic, a book about shared experiences written from the perspective of ‘Us’ that somehow explores individuality. The collective in question is a group of Japanese wives who sail to the United States in the early 1900s. In a series of poetic, sensory brush-strokes, Otsuka covers migrant work, teenagers fitting in and rejecting their heritage, and the impact of war on immigrants. You’ll never read anything like it.

The Silence of Trees by Valya Dudycz Lupescu

When we move to a new country, how much do we leave behind? And what do we take with us? Told from the perspective of Nadya, once a teenager in Ukraine during World War II, now a grandmother in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, The Silence of Trees is rich in folklore, spirits and rituals. Its magical tales explore how our narratives help us cope with, and hide from, our own lives. At the same time, it encourages us to confront and make peace with the secrets of our past.

The Road Home by Rose Tremain

Optimistic, hard-working, and good, Lev wants to do well in Britain. But it’s not easy. Having left his daughter and best buddy behind in an unnamed European country, Lev does his best to break into a better life in London. The Road Home allows author Rose Tremain to lay bare the ugliness and wonder of one of the world’s most appealing and appalling cities. But even as Lev starts to make it work, we’re made to wonder: what exactly is he looking for?

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Less about the place you’ve moved to, and more about the place you’ve left behind, Diaz’s lively prose tears into the obscene dictatorship of the Dominican Republic’s President Trujillo and the devastating impact he had on tens of thousands of civilians—mostly through the doomed adventures of a bold young Dominican girl and her offspring. Despite the tragic subject matter, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a raucous, hilarious exploration of heritage and migration. While the story is very Dominican, the human strengths and weaknesses Diaz explores will resonate with readers around the world.

Exit West: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid

From the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist comes this emotional rollercoaster that will make you both weep and rejoice. With poetic language and vivid depictions of love and racial hatred, Exit West is the riveting tale of Nadia and Saeed’s love as they flee their war-torn home in search of a life that may only exist in their dreams.

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2020-09-08

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