What We’re Reading: Books About the Immigrant Experience

Books About Immigrant Experience
Books About Immigrant Experience

In 2019, Celadon Books published Here We Are, a memoir by NPR correspondent Aarti Shahani about her family’s experience immigrating to the U.S. in the 1980s, obtaining citizenship, and their subsequent battle with the justice department over her father’s deportation.

Although Aarti’s story is heart-wrenching, it highlights the importance of understanding the history of our “nation of immigrants” and creates the urge to learn more about the struggles that new immigrants are facing today. As Aarti said in an interview:

“I wrote this book as a reminder to myself: Aarti, don’t whitewash your own history. Stay honest. Let that honesty about the past, for each of us, be a blueprint for the future of the U.S.”

In an effort to continue sharing these stories, the Celadon team has compiled a recommended reading list of books about the experience of immigrating to America — both that we’ve read and loved and others that are on our to-read shelf. We hope you find these books as impactful and enlightening as we do.

Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

"Behold the Dreamers is a wonderful novel about a young Cameroonian  couple who come to New York...I tried to acquire it after being unable to put it down but my heart was broken when I didn’t win the day. A book I have heard terrific things about but haven’t yet read is The Leavers by Lisa Ko. It’s high on my towering to read stack." — Deb Futter, Co-Publisher & SVP

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

"The Namesake was not only a beautifully written novel about immigrating to America, it was a poignant look at identity and how one defines themselves. My book club read this novel years ago and the discussion was lively and thought provoking. Highly recommend." — Rachel Chou, VP, Associate Publisher

Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas

"A popular memoir about moving from Iran to California and the intersection of two cultures. When I read this for the First Year Experience in college, I loved the idea that humor is used to connect people from different backgrounds and break through cultural barriers." — Jaime Noven, Marketing Manager

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

"Sour Heart is, to me, one of the top five of the past few years. This novel-in-stories weaves together the multi-generational experiences of a group of intersecting families who moved from China to America during the Cultural Revolution. Through stories of immigrant parents and their adolescent Chinese-American children, Zhang paints a nuanced and complicated portrait of migration, poverty, and the cruelty of teenagers." — Cecily van Buren-Freedman, Editorial Assistant

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"I learned so much from this sprawling novel. It moved around between Nigeria, the United States, and the UK, but the main character's arc took us through her experience of moving to the United States and grappling with what it meant to be Black in America. Adichie's writing is just amazing; I was so sad when I closed the book at the end — it was long, but I wanted to keep going." — Randi Kramer, Assistant Editor

Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran

Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran

"With a striking cover and clever title, the memoir Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran has been on my To Be Read pile since it came out this year. This coming-of-age story follows Tran and his Vietnamese family’s immigrating to Pennsylvania in the 1970s. They suffer persecution in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Tran struggles with assimilation. Tran finds solace in books and punk rock which help him to find his own voice and ultimately reconcile his identity." — Lauren Dooley, Marketing Assistant

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

"I have loved Julia Alvarez for years, but haven't had the chance to read her debut, How the García Girls Lost their Accents and it's been in my TBR pile since I read her gorgeous novel, In the Time of the Butterflies. I've heard from countless people that this story of four sisters who have to flee the Dominican Republic to a new life in the USA is an instant classic and heart-breakingly poignant." — Heather Orlando-Jerabek, Publicity Assistant

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

"I read this classic story of Asian-American daughters and their Chinese-immigrant mothers many years ago. But the conversations around the mahjong table and the struggles the mothers faced in coming to the U.S. have stuck with me through the years. Also as important: the daughters’ search for their own identities, while trying to understand their family histories and incorporate them in their present." — Jennifer Jackson, Senior Director, Consumer Marketing

The Buddah in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

"Next on my list is The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. Otsuka tells the story of young Japanese women brought to San Francisco before World War II as 'picture brides' and their grueling experiences. This meticulously researched historical fiction brings voice to those who were deceived into becoming migrant workers in this new and unknown land and forced to leave their culture behind. I look forward to diving into this difficult but necessary tale." — Lauren Dooley, Marketing Assistant

Blue Jasmine by Kashmira Sheth

Blue Jasmine by Kashmira Sheth

"A children's novel about a girl moving from India to Iowa City. I'd recommend this book to kids grades four to seven, especially kids who may think they're the only ones who feel like an outsider. The novel is inspired by the author's own experiences moving from India to America." — Jaime Noven, Marketing Manager

Here We Are by Aarti Namdev Shahani

"NPR correspondent Aarti Shahani's moving memoir documents her Indian family's story of immigrating to America in the 1980s – and the struggles they faced after her father unknowingly sold goods to the Cali drug cartel. Only a high school student at the time, Aarti threw herself into her father's legal case to help save him from deportation and keep their family together in their new home country. In paperback October 6." — The Celadon Team

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