Novels about contemporary immigrant / refugee / expat experiences
May 12, 2018 2:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for great novels (or exceptional memoir / creative nonfiction) that use the experience of being an expat / immigrant / refugee as a way to explore the cultures of both the home country and the new country. Americanah's exploration of race in America from a Nigerian point of view is exactly what I'm looking for; more like that, please.

Preferences: No travel memoirs, no high fantasy, contemporary works rather than anything pre-WWII. I have a low tolerance for "I got self-actualized by teaching English in Asia" memoirs, but recommend them if you adored them.
posted by Jeanne to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Signs Preceding the End of the World - Yuri Herrera
Street of Thieves - Mathias Enard
posted by misteraitch at 2:53 PM on May 12, 2018

Teju Cole's Everyday is for the Thief
posted by praemunire at 3:01 PM on May 12, 2018

The Leavers by Lisa Ko has an interesting perspective on China and the U.S.
posted by gatorae at 3:04 PM on May 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I loved The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri more than I can say.
posted by eirias at 3:16 PM on May 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Ooh, Dinaw Mengetsu's "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears." Beautifully written and ticks all of your boxes.
posted by stillmoving at 3:21 PM on May 12, 2018

A few of the storylines within Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings include immigrant and expat experiences. It is an amazing book; I think of it as comparable to Adichie's Americanah though obviously they have different styles.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:31 PM on May 12, 2018

The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang is amazing.
posted by Elly Vortex at 3:47 PM on May 12, 2018

Dreams and Nightmares by Liliana Velasquez.
posted by NoraCharles at 5:00 PM on May 12, 2018

It's a short story, not a novel, but I was very impressed by "Seven" by Edwidge Danticat (I discovered it through an episode the New Yorker Fiction Podcast)

I also really liked V.S. Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival.
posted by Desertshore at 5:24 PM on May 12, 2018

People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia
posted by snaw at 6:41 PM on May 12, 2018

Chemistry by Weike Wang may fit the bill.
posted by batter_my_heart at 6:44 PM on May 12, 2018

What We Lose by Zinzie Clemons, and The Leavers by Lisa Ko.
posted by apricot at 6:46 PM on May 12, 2018

Maybe Joseph O'Neill's Netherland?
posted by ferret branca at 7:06 PM on May 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Razor's Edge kind of has this. It's set pre-WWII though.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:26 PM on May 12, 2018

White Teeth by Zadie Smith is about a few generations of an immigrant family in England.
posted by Grandysaur at 7:29 PM on May 12, 2018

American Brat by Bapsi Sidhwa, Sour Sweet by Timothy Mo
posted by Badmichelle at 9:07 PM on May 12, 2018

Maybe others found Exit West by Mohsin Hamid too "high fantasy" to mention here but-- I really think it is the best book on global migration written-- recently? ever?
posted by athirstforsalt at 12:25 AM on May 13, 2018

I just finished Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang which was both great and absolutely an example of this type of book.
posted by Lluvia at 12:31 AM on May 13, 2018

Seconding Exit West. It really is an extraordinary novel.
posted by atlantica at 3:19 AM on May 13, 2018

I am in the middle of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and I LOVE it. It's about a Korean family in the 20th century, dealing with Japanese occupation and presumably its aftermath. The family moves from Busan (in what is now S Korea) to Osaka just before WW2; the first half of the book deals with the challenges of being an immigrant/colonial living in the land of the colonizer. I presume at some point the family will make its way to America (the writer is Korean-American), which will be a whole nother immigrant experience.

It's one of those books where you feel like your regular life is just marking time until you can get home and crack open the book again. The person who recommended it to me said she stayed up until 2 AM to finish it.
posted by basalganglia at 5:38 AM on May 13, 2018

Girl in Translation may work for you, it's about a young woman and her mother who move from Hong Kong to New York.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 6:10 AM on May 13, 2018

Oh, wow - thanks for so many great recommendations, some of which I hadn't heard of, some of which I needed to be reminded of! Have already read Chemistry and Pachinko, neither of which was quiiiiite the thing I'm looking for, but I'm looking forward to reading the others.
posted by Jeanne at 9:41 AM on May 13, 2018

I think Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue, fits the bill. It's about a young couple who immigrate to New York from Cameroon.
posted by merejane at 6:29 PM on May 13, 2018

Seconding Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, and if you're open to short story collections, his book The Refugees focuses on the thematic area you're looking for.

Rakesh Satyal's No One Can Pronounce My Name also delves into and plays with that sort of cultural analysis and interpretation; the two main POVs are both immigrants.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 10:38 PM on May 13, 2018

Poetry, not novel, though it has a narrative, (and originally a performance piece of the same name): Migritude by Shailja Patel. She's a 3rd generation immigrant in Kenya of Indian Gujarati heritage.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:29 AM on May 14, 2018

I haven't read it yet because I just picked it up at the library, but Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi sounds like it might be what you are looking for too.
posted by apricot at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2018

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