5 Books to Celebrate Immigrant Life

Some of us might be familiar with what it’s like to immigrate to the United States through stories from friends, family, or maybe our own personal experience. But for those who don’t know, there may be some misconceptions, or parts of immigrant life that seem unclear. Here are five books that look at immigrant life in America through different points of view. 

1) The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri


After Ashoke and Ashima leave Calcutta and settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they try to create a new life while leaving many of their customs behind. A misunderstanding leads to their son’s nickname, Gogol, becoming his legal name. While adjusting to American ideals, they learn just how much a name can shape the outcome of someone’s life. Lahiri captures the struggle of the Bengali couple with both delicacy and powerful words. 


2) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche


Adiche’s novel follows the life of two Nigerian teenagers, Ifemelu and Obinze, as they navigate through their lives together and separately. When Ifemelu leaves Nigeria to study in Philadelphia, Obinze tries to follow, but he is denied as a result of post-9/11 America and remains an undocumented citizen in London. Years later after they both have found success, the two of them find themselves in Nigeria once more where they now have to make a very difficult decision. Adiche’s novel is filled with beautiful imagery and prose, while exploring identity and what it means to be black in America.


3) The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez


Henriquez’ novel answers the question of what happens when a community comes together. The Riveras move from Mexico to an apartment building in Delaware after their daughter Maribel suffers from a near-fatal accident. They quickly realize that the road to recovery won’t be easy as they are faced with both cultural and racial obstacles in America. In their apartment complex are other immigrant families facing similar struggles, but it is Mayor Toro that catches Maribel’s eye. With humanity and poise, Henriquez paints a portrait of young love, adversity, and what it means to be American.


4) My New American Life by Francine Prose


Lula is a young immigrant from Albania who settled in a small, New Jersey suburb where she works as a nanny. Living on a tourist visa, her boss offers to help her save for a green card so she can start making the life she’s always wanted for herself. But when some of her “brothers” find her, Lula’s life becomes much more entangled with her past than she hoped it would. Through Prose’s novel we explore what the “American Dream” means and what happens when the past and the present intermingle.


5) The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan


In some cultures, storytelling is a way to keep traditions and practices alive for generations. In Tan’s novel, a group of Chinese immigrants called the “Joy Luck Club” uncover their pasts together through shared meals, games of mahjong, and lots of talking. The women and their American daughters are knit together through bittersweet stories of childhood and a shared understanding of life’s hardships.