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December CultureCAT: Cultural Flow and Immigration

2017 Category Challenge

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Nov 10, 2017, 12:20pm Top

To start, I will say that my recommendations and suggestions are heavily US-biased, so apologies in advance. I hope others will contribute recommendations for books about immigration and migration to other countries.

Stories of immigration and migration show us both the best and the worst of the world - whether it’s the family choosing to start a new life elsewhere and finding happiness and success (however they might define it) or the young person forced to flee his homeland due to natural disaster or conflict. They are stories of what could be and what is, aspirational, inspirational, and cautionary. They show us the range of human emotion and experience, give us glimpses into other cultures and societies, and help us reflect on our own.

I think this is a great theme, encompassing as it does so many wonderful books, both fiction and nonfiction. I’ve put together some lists which, obviously, are in no way exhaustive. I’ve starred the ones I’ve read and loved, and I’ve included links to some other lists and resources for anyone interested in finding more great reads.

Edited: Nov 10, 2017, 12:39pm Top

*Academy Street by Mary Costello
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Small Island by Andrea Levy
*The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant
The Free World by David Bezmozgis
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig
A Good American by Alex George
Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon
*Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
The Road Home by Rose Tremain
Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
*The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
*Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Last Gift by Abdulrazak Gurnah

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman
The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens by Brooke Hauser
Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
*Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
To See and See Again: A Life in Iran and America by Tara Bahrampour

Edited: Nov 10, 2017, 12:40pm Top

I look forward to hearing about everyone's reads!

Nov 10, 2017, 2:18pm Top

I'd like to add a recommendation. It's a migration within the US, and it made my favourites list a couple of years ago:

The Warmth of Other Suns / Isabel Wilkerson.

Nov 10, 2017, 2:23pm Top

I've got quite a few options for this one:

The Hero's Walk / Anita Rau Badami
Intolerable / Kamal Al-Solaylee
Honolulu / Alan Brennert
China Dolls / Lisa See
Bury Me Standing / Isabel Fonseca
The Shoemaker's Wife / Adriana Trigiani
The Concubine's Children / Denise Chong

Nov 10, 2017, 2:24pm Top

I'll endorse your endorsement for Small Island which I loved.

For reading from the current European perspective, I'm planning on reading The Optician of Lampedusa which is about the migrant boats crossing the Mediterranean.

Nov 10, 2017, 2:24pm Top

>6 LibraryCin: ooh, I read Bury me Standing many many years ago and really enjoyed it. If Mt TBR wasn't so huge I'd consider it for a long overdue reread.

Nov 10, 2017, 2:44pm Top

>8 Jackie_K: Yeah, I just checked my library doesn't have it. :-( It would have to be an ILL, so it might wait a bit longer, after all.

Nov 10, 2017, 2:48pm Top

>5 LibraryCin: - I also loved The Warmth of Other Suns. I would love to get some more recommendations for books about internal migrations, whether in the US or elsewhere...

>6 LibraryCin: - That looks like a great list! And it reminds me I also have the Trigiani on my Kindle...

>7 Jackie_K: - I was hoping there might be a few suggestions for reads about the current situation in Europe with migrants crossing from Africa.

>8 Jackie_K: - I'd not heard of Bury Me Standing and I know so little about the Gypsies, I'll be adding it to my wish list.

Nov 10, 2017, 4:33pm Top

>10 katiekrug: More general books on migration, not Europe specifically, but including Europe as well as North America, and also on my TBR, are Jeremy Harding's Border Vigils: Keeping Migrants out of the Rich World, and Reece Jones' Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move. If I get the chance I'd also like to read one of those, but having possibly overcommitted myself in the November CATs I might start the month finishing off my November reads first.

Nov 10, 2017, 4:36pm Top

I've got Brick Lane slated for this theme, and I'm still looking around to figure out if I have some fitting nonfiction :)

Nov 10, 2017, 5:35pm Top

I am planning on reading The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant. I really enjoyed The Tiger by this author which I read a few years ago.

Nov 11, 2017, 3:00am Top

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Exit West yet.

Nov 11, 2017, 3:18am Top

For something completely different: I liked Merle Kröger’s Havarie (in German, but there is an English translation titled “Collision“).

Nov 11, 2017, 4:00am Top

I'm finally going to pick up immigrants, a French graphic "novel" collecting 13 accounts of immigrants to France, interpreted by graphic artists, with the support of historians and amnesty international.

Nov 11, 2017, 9:26am Top

I've also just remembered another book on my TBR that would work for this theme - The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla.

Nov 12, 2017, 9:49am Top

>11 Jackie_K: and >17 Jackie_K: - Thanks for those suggestions, Jackie!

>12 whitewavedarling: - I'm contemplating Brick Lane as well, Jennifer. I've had my copy for ages...

>13 DeltaQueen50: - I hope you like The Jaguar's Children, Judy. It was a very powerful read.

>14 sushicat: - Oh my goodness, sushi, you're right! I read and loved Exit West earlier this year. It would be a great read for this month. Also, Home Fire has some interesting themes related to immigration and assimilation...

>15 sushicat: and >16 sushicat: - Hooray for more suggestions! The graphic novel sounds especially interesting to me.

Nov 12, 2017, 9:56am Top

I wanted to mention explicitly, though I think some of the suggestions already made have implied it, that "immigration" can take many forms, and any interpretation of it is welcome - "legal" immigration, internal migration, refugee and migrant journeys, etc. It's a topic obviously much in the news, in very different ways, from the US to Europe to Myanmar/Bangladesh, and Australia, just to name a few.

Nov 13, 2017, 12:38am Top

I'm going to join in with an historical GN, Gone To Amerikay by Derek McCulloch.

Nov 13, 2017, 8:24pm Top

>15 sushicat: I've been saving Exit West for this challenge. Can't wait to read it.

Nov 13, 2017, 10:58pm Top

>20 Familyhistorian: - Welcome aboard, Meg!

>21 beebeereads: - It's an excellent read, and perfect for this theme.

Nov 14, 2017, 1:19pm Top

I just got Exit West from the library, so I'm in. And it's one of you Dirty Dozen. Bonus!

Nov 14, 2017, 1:44pm Top


Edited: Nov 18, 2017, 6:06am Top

And I just got another perfect candidate from the library: Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova

Nov 18, 2017, 10:50am Top

>25 sushicat: - Excellent! I think Charlotte (charl08) in the 75ers group recently read that.

I am so excited about all the great book ideas being shared here!

Nov 18, 2017, 11:57am Top

I was trying to think of something and realized that my current read, In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende would fit here.

Nov 18, 2017, 5:39pm Top

>27 BLBera: - Are you liking that one, Beth? I heard Allende speak last winter and she talked a bit about the premise of In the Midst of Winter and it sounded interesting.

Nov 21, 2017, 10:00am Top

I am liking it; I have about 100 pages left. It's interesting to see the perspective of two women from different countries. Experiences with repressive regimes seem to be universal, and women seem to bear the brunt of the violence.

Nov 21, 2017, 10:03am Top

Women seem to bear the brunt of a lot :-/

Nov 21, 2017, 10:04am Top

Yes, I was a big Charlie Rose fan, and the news is devastating.

Nov 21, 2017, 1:54pm Top

>31 BLBera: This was the first I heard about the Charlie Rose news. It certainly is shocking.

Nov 22, 2017, 10:17am Top

And disgusting, Vivian. It sounds like he's been a sleeze for years.

Dec 1, 2017, 10:13am Top

Happy December, everybody! Hope you have your reads all lined up for this month's theme :) I think I've decided on The Road Home by Rose Tremain, about an Eastern European immigrant to the UK. I reserve the right to change my mind, of course...

Also, I wanted to note that I just saw The Wangs vs. the World was on sale for Kindle today - this was a great read about a Chinese immigrant in the US and his family, touching on issues of assimilation and what is left behind.

Dec 1, 2017, 11:01am Top

I second your thoughts on The Wangs vs. the World - loved the book.

Dec 4, 2017, 11:20pm Top

The Hero's Walk / Anita Rau Badami
3.5 stars

Sripathi and his daughter had a falling out when she moved to Canada from India and wanted to marry someone she met there. They never spoke again, though Maya went on to have a little girl herself, Nandana. Unfortunately, when Nandana was only 7-years old, Maya and her husband died in a car crash. Sripathi had to collect his granddaughter and bring her to India to take care of her and to live with the rest of the family: his son, Arun, his sister, Putti (who never got married, as their mother never approved of anyone!), their mother, Ammayya, and Sripathi’s wife, Nirmala.

It started a bit slow for me, as I found it tricky to figure out who was who, as there were a lot of characters! There was also (at least at first) some jumping around in time, as characters were lost in their memories, as well as present day, so I found that trickier to follow, as well. I enjoyed Nandana’s story from the start. The book got better in the second half, once I figured out (mostly!) who was who. However, I didn’t like Sripathi much: especially in the first half - I found him to be a very angry man.

Dec 6, 2017, 12:20am Top

I was literally unable to put The Jaguar's Children down once I started it. This was an intense read made all the more terrifying as it is loosely based on a true story of people being abandoned to die in the desert, locked into a truck. No matter what your feelings are towards illegial immigrants, these fellow humans were left in a terrible situation. The Jaguar's Children is a powerful and relevant read considering today's world-wide situation with immigrants.

Dec 6, 2017, 8:13am Top

>35 BLBera: - Hopefully, someone picked it up during the sale, Beth, and will enjoy it as much as we did!

>36 LibraryCin: - That one sounds interesting. The Leave and The Return are often themes in this kind of work, with the return being accomplished by the next generation.

>37 DeltaQueen50: - Judy, thanks for your comments. I still think about that book. So good and so affecting. I agree with all you've said about it.

Dec 7, 2017, 11:40am Top

I just finished What We Lose, which kind of fits here. The protagonist is the daughter of an American father and South African mother and talks about how she has trouble figuring out where she fits.

Dec 9, 2017, 9:31pm Top

Here is the link to the new secure Wiki for the 2017 Culture Cat:


Dec 15, 2017, 6:12am Top

Song for a dark queen is a YA book about Boudicca and her revolt against the Roman invaders who do not understand the matriarchal society of the Iceni. Murder and mayhem ensues, and it ends with Celtic culture succumbing to Roman imperialism.

Dec 15, 2017, 11:21am Top

I recently finished The Leavers and just now realized how well it fits this month's theme.

It's a fantastic book and I highly recommend it.

Dec 16, 2017, 2:32am Top

I read a GN that fit the theme. Gone to Amerikay looked at two different set of Irish immigrants to New York in two different time periods, 1870 and 1960. There were a few changes between the time that Ciara O'Dwyer and her daughter landed in the 19th century and when the musician Johnny McCormack comes to make his fortune in the 20th century. It was all drawn together by the fact that they came from the same place and there was a wealthy man in our time who searched out both of their stories and the connections between them. It was an interesting concept.

Edited: Dec 16, 2017, 11:20am Top

Just finished Exit West Wow! This was outstanding. So intricate yet so simple. His writing is eloquent and the magical realism enhanced the story tenfold allowing the author to span periods of time in an instant to focus on the character development and the plot. I am in awe of his ability and completely engrossed in the "comings and goings" of people on this earth. Rather than focusing solely on migration and refugees, he also described the choices to stay or to leave or decide to return. Simply fascinating and thought-provoking. My husband had to call my name three times when I was reading in a waiting room recently!

Dec 16, 2017, 9:21pm Top

>39 BLBera: - Sounds perfect for this theme, Beth. I'll have a look for that one.

>40 DeltaQueen50: - Thank you, Judy!

>41 MissWatson: - What a cool take on the theme. I know so little about that period, but it's fascinating how far back the issue of assimilation - forced or voluntary - goes.

>42 RidgewayGirl: - That one's been on my list, Kay. Glad to have another recommendation for it!

>43 Familyhistorian: - I'm not a big GN reader, Meg, but that sounds really interesting. I may see if my library has it.

>44 beebeereads: - Exit West is one of my favorite reads of this year! Your comments are spot on - thanks for sharing them!

Dec 16, 2017, 9:23pm Top

The Road Home is very good. It's the kind of book I want to sink into and read in huge chunks, which I haven't been able to do lately. So I have put it aside to take with me to my in-laws for Christmas, when I will have very little to do besides read, have stilted and awkward conversations with family, and play with my baby nephew...

Dec 17, 2017, 1:03pm Top

>44 beebeereads: Exit West sounds terrific! I have a hold on it at the library but I'm still far down on the list of holds.

Dec 19, 2017, 10:08am Top

As usual I end up reading something completely different. I’ve just finished I Was Told to Come Alone - and what a great book it was. It is the memoir of a German journalist, daughter of a Moroccan father and a Turkish mother. She spent years in investigative journalism out of a burning need to understand why we see a rise in extremism, particularly in the Islam world. Reading this well balance, unprejudiced look at a tangled mess of historical legacy and social issues is an eye opener. Lots of food for thoughts. Highly recommended.

Dec 25, 2017, 2:24pm Top

Finished Brick Lane by Monica Ali--perfect for the challenge, but probably not something I'd recommend.

Dec 28, 2017, 9:02am Top

Oops! I've been a bad host...

>47 VivienneR: - Vivienne, Exit West will be worth the wait :)

>48 sushicat: - I've had my eye on that one - guess I should move it up The List...

>49 whitewavedarling: - I'm sorry to hear you wouldn't recommend Brick Lane - it's sitting on my shelf! What didn't you like about it?

Dec 28, 2017, 9:02am Top

So my plan to finish The Road Home over Christmas didn't work out, but I am determined to finish it before the end of the year. Wish me luck!

Dec 28, 2017, 9:07am Top

Good luck, Katie! I read half of Exit West before it had to go back, and now I am waiting to get it back again - I wish they would give us longer with the digital loans. *sigh*

Dec 28, 2017, 9:11am Top

Mamie, how long do you get for your e-book loans? Is it through Overdrive? My libraries using Overdrive allow you to adjust the loan period - yours doesn't?

Dec 28, 2017, 9:16am Top

We get them for two weeks. We can adjust our loan period - our choice is one week or two weeks.

Dec 28, 2017, 9:51am Top

Well, poop. My choices are 1, 2 or 3 weeks.

Dec 28, 2017, 9:52am Top

I want three weeks as an option! *pouts*

Dec 28, 2017, 9:54am Top

Dec 28, 2017, 9:56am Top


Dec 29, 2017, 12:07am Top

>50 katiekrug:, There wasn't anything particularly wrong with Brick Lane... it was well-written and believable. It just... well, I suppose it felt overly literary and force, and wasn't particularly enjoyable or engaging. I couldn't bring myself to really care about the characters, honestly, and felt like the book could have been a Lot shorter... and been better for it. Simply, it felt like a lot of choices were made in order for it to be smart and of the moment (and nominated for awards), rather than the choices being made in order to tell a story. So, yeah... it's hard to put my finger on it, but it comes down to the fact that as believable as it all was, I just couldn't bring myself to care about the characters at the center of the story because everything was so stylized and drawn out. I wanted more from it. If the writer had written it from the perspective of one of the other characters, maybe it would have been more striking, but as it was, it just felt rather forced to me, and less than enjoyable.

Dec 29, 2017, 11:37am Top

I finished The Optician of Lampedusa today - highly recommended, but harrowing. This started out as a report for the BBC's Radio 4 news programme, PM (the author is a BBC foreign correspondent), but the story stayed with her and she has fleshed out the report (of a boatload of 500+ African migrants whose boat sank in the Mediterranean off the Italian island of Lampedusa, and how 47 of them were rescued by 8 local Lampedusans who were out in their sailing boat). 5*.

Dec 29, 2017, 11:47am Top

>59 whitewavedarling: - Thanks for those additional comments. I also don't react well when I feel like a book is overly written and, for lack of a better word, show-offy.

>60 Jackie_K: - Oof, that sounds really good but really tough. I am going to add it to my List.

Dec 29, 2017, 7:48pm Top

I finished Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, a prequel to Jane Eyre. It's about the first Mrs. Rochester, Antoinette Cosway, her childhood in Jamaica and subsequent move to England. Colonialism is one of the major themes of the novel.

Dec 29, 2017, 7:56pm Top

>61 katiekrug:, glad to help :)

Group: 2017 Category Challenge

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