The migrant experience has been a prevalent subject of modern literature for many decades now and, considering the turbulent political times we live in, it's more important than ever. Here are ten insightful and lucid books detailing the lives of immigrants, asylum-seekers and migrants across the world. 

The Refugees

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s new collection of short stories is more relevant than ever in Trump’s era. Recounting the experience of Vietnamese refugees with imposing clarity, this book reveals different facets of displacement. It depicts the suffering of humanity as a whole, regardless of who wins the war. The Refugees explores exile, loss, regret and family ties with Nguyen’s signature poignancy.

 

Exit West

by Mohsin Hamid

This prescient novel follows two people who are forced to flee after a civil war breaks out in their unnamed city. Hamid blends elements of magical realism with political commentary to portray the perennial feelings of dislocation and psychological turmoil refugees face. Concise and surreal, Exit West depicts the human costs of political discord and refugee ban. Now shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Hamid’s latest book is necessary reading of our times.

 

Sour Heart

by Jenny Zhang

Zhang’s provocative debut short story collection will shock, occasionally distress but ultimately move you. It comprises of seven staggering stories of immigrants who have swapped their life in China and Taiwan to live in deplorable conditions in 1990s New York. Zhang pulls no punches in exposing the reality of immigrant life in the US with ironic candour. Sour Heart renders poverty, elastic family ties and girlhood with dazzling brutality.

 

Behold the Dreamers

by Imbolo Mbue

This dynamic and charming novel revolves around Jende and Neni—a Cameroonian immigrant couple who have just moved to New York to start a new life. Unfortunately, the imminent financial crisis of 2008 will make it much harder for them to build a new life. The story details the gauntlet of immigration procedures which Jende has to go through to get his asylum application approved with engaging authenticity. This debut depicts how difficult the pursuit of the American Dream is for immigrants in this day and age.

 

Refugee Tales II 

edited by David Herd & Anna Pincus

This stark short story collection will shake you to the core. Channelling the style of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the second volume of Refugee Tales relates the experiences of those who are left indefinitely detained after seeking asylum in the UK. Eminent writers such as Olivia Laing, Kamila Shamsie and Helen MacDonald unflinchingly retell real stories of the harrowing torture these people have escaped and the interminable wait in store for them.

Leaving their country of origin to seek refuge in a place with human rights, these asylum seekers instead find themselves embroiled in bureaucratic sabotage and blatant prejudice. This book gives us a vivid and claustrophobic view of a grave crisis that's been reduced to headlines.

 

The Gringo Champion

by Aura Xilonen

Translated by Andrea Rosenberg, this is the story of Liborio, a young man who migrates illegally to “the promised land”, America, for a better life. Xilonen, the 19-year-old writer, said the book was partly inspired by the stories of his grandfather who himself was an immigrant and a boxer.

In prose that is at once inventive, profane and idiosyncratic, The Gringo Champion offers striking insight into the life of people straddling borders. This audacious debut brings attention to the plights of a burgeoning community which has largely been sidelined and discriminated against in the US.

 

Black Rock White City

by A S Patric

A poignant story of two Serbian refugees, Jovan and Suzana, who have lost their children and academic careers to the horrific Bosnian War. Now in Melbourne, Jovan works as a hospital cleaner while his wife cleans people’s houses. Like Exit West, Black Rock White City shrewdly dissects how migration changes relationship dynamics between people. Patric probes the challenges immigrants face and how people mourn and recover from traumatic loss.

 

Breach

by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes

This timely collection was specially commissioned by Peirene Press following the escalating refugee crisis in the EU last year. Both writers travelled to the Calais refugee camps and distilled their interactions with the people there into intimate stories of refugees, volunteers and citizens. The story incisively shows the anxiety, mental anguish and adversity which people living in limbo undergo. These stories represent the myriad fragments of the refugee crisis with humour, hope and pathos.

 

Night Sky with Exit Wounds

by Ocean Vuong

Vuong was born in a Vietnamese rice farm outside Saigon and after spending a year in a refugee camp, moved to America. His poems are haunted by the legacy of war—psychological scars, loss and grief felt on a human level. Steeped in emotion and politically aware, this collection tackles big issues with great lucidity.

 

The Good Immigrant

edited by Nikesh Shukla

This brilliant collection brings together essays by 21 British Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers and poets. It examines what being an immigrant means to different individuals in essays that range from humorous and poignant to thought-provoking. The Good Immigrant dispels stereotypes and takes a searing look at the way society arbitrarily views immigrants.

 

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