The best books about diasporas, being away but connected to home

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in South Africa. My mother was a daughter of Polish immigrants, while my father was a first-generation Jewish Lithuanian (a ‘Litvak’). I emigrated at 20 and have spent much of my life in Europe, with extended periods in Nigeria, the Caribbean, and back in South Africa. Being mobile and displaced is both part of my personal experience and my chosen professional career. Although I do work on other themes (like island societies, creolization, and globalization) I found myself increasingly writing on migration and diaspora.


I wrote...

Global Diasporas: An Introduction

By Robin Cohen,

Book cover of Global Diasporas: An Introduction

What is my book about?

Following its initial publication in 1997, Global Diasporas: An Introduction was central to the emergence of diaspora studies and quickly established itself as the leading book in the field. This is an expanded and fully revised 25th-anniversary edition, adding two new chapters on incipient diasporas and diaspora engagement.

Robin Cohen clarifies the changing meanings of the concept of diaspora and explains his notion of a ‘diasporic rope’. The book features insightful case studies and compares a wide range of diasporas, including Jewish, Armenian, African, Sikh, Chinese, British, Indian, Lebanese, Afghan, and Caribbean peoples. This edition also retains Cohen’s rich historical and sociological descriptions and clear yet elegant writing, as well as his concept of a ‘rope’ linking different features of diasporas.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Dispersion: A History of the Word Diaspora

Robin Cohen Why did I love this book?

This is the opposite of a popular read and not for the faint-hearted. Dufoix has followed, in a detailed way, the labyrinthian uses and meaning of the word diaspora since the third century BCE. Using sources from several languages, this is a major scholarly work, totaling 554 pages. For sheer diligence alone this is an unrivalled sourcebook in diaspora studies. At times, Dufoix’s reasoning is so intricate that it becomes almost Talmudic, but this is part of the charm. We can take pleasure in observing a dedicated researcher undertaking a quest from which he will not be deterred. 

By Stéphane Dufoix,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Dispersion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2017 Choice Outstanding Academic Title Award

In The Dispersion, Stephane Dufoix skillfully traces how the word "diaspora", first coined in the third century BCE, has, over the past three decades, developed into a contemporary concept often considered to be ideally suited to grasping the complexities of our current world. Spanning two millennia, from the Septuagint to the emergence of Zionism, from early Christianity to the Moravians, from slavery to the defence of the Black cause, from its first scholarly uses to academic ubiquity, from the early negative connotations of the term to its contemporary apotheosis, Stephane Dufoix…


Book cover of Sea of Poppies

Robin Cohen Why did I love this book?

This is the first volume of The Ibis Trilogy, three linked historical novels set mainly in India and the Indian Ocean. The author is a trained social anthropologist and occasionally the pace of the novel is interrupted by too much ethnography. However, the characters are engaging, and he deftly penetrates the lives of sailors, colonial administrators, Indian indentured labourers, and opium traders. Much of the action takes place in Mauritius, one of the many places (others include Natal, Fiji, Guyana, and Trinidad) to which Indian workers were taken, thus forming the first Indian diaspora. You don’t need to read the two remaining titles in the trilogy – this one works as a standalone. However, the three together can be seen as rivalling the historic sweep of Leo Tolstoy, tinged with the graphic social realism of Charles Dickens.

By Amitav Ghosh,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Sea of Poppies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the heart of this epic saga, set just before the Opium Wars, is an old slaving-ship, The Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its crew a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a truly diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed villager, from an evangelical English opium trader to a mulatto American freedman. As their old family ties are washed away they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais or ship-brothers. An…


Book cover of New Diasporas: The Mass Exodus, Dispersal and Regrouping of Migrant Communities

Robin Cohen Why did I love this book?

The issue of when one can call a dispersal a ‘diaspora’ has been a long-running debate between those interesting in diasporas. Displaced peoples can return, fragment, or assimilate. What factors are in play that impel any one ethnic group to cohere, link to similar communities aboard and continue to connect, emotionally and in other ways, to their place of origin? This is a tough question to answer and Van Hear has a brave try in answering it. He has undertaken field research in Africa and Sri Lanka and his command of the sources and comparisons is impressive. Of course, there are many refugee flows that post-date this book, but it nonetheless stands as a first crack at addressing the issue of diasporic formation.

By Nicholas Van Hear,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked New Diasporas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Charts the connections between migrations crises and the formation and demise transnational communities, looking at 10 contemporary migration crises aroun the world. Examines factors that are accelerating and constraining the growt of transnational communities, and provides a perspective on the soc


Book cover of Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems

Robin Cohen Why did I love this book?

Mahmoud Darwish is often described as Palestine’s national poet. He was born in the Galilee and his poems reflected his life as an Israeli Arab and chronicler of the Palestinian struggle. He increasingly became recognized as a poet of international significance, though one working in a long tradition of Arabic poetry. The imagery of his poems is remarkable, and he is also known for his extraordinary aphorisms, for example: "Nothing is harder on the soul than the smell of dreams, while they're evaporating." Exile, displacement, and suffering are all there, but done in a way that is lyrical not finger-wagging and rhetorical. This is a collection of poems from various phases of his career. (He died in 2008.)

By Mahmoud Darwish, Sinan Antoon (editor), Amira El-Zein (editor) , Munir Akash (translator) , Carolyn Forché (translator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Unfortunately, It Was Paradise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mahmoud Darwish is a literary rarity: at once critically acclaimed as one of the most important poets in the Arabic language, and beloved as the voice of his people. A legend in Palestine, his lyrics are sung by fieldworkers and schoolchildren. He has assimilated some of the world's oldest literary traditions while simultaneously struggling to open new possibilities for poetry. This collection spans Darwish's entire career, nearly four decades, revealing an impressive range of expression and form. A splendid team of translators has collaborated with the poet on these new translations, which capture Darwish's distinctive voice and spirit. Fady Joudah's…


Book cover of The Lebanese Cookbook

Robin Cohen Why did I love this book?

Poor Lebanon! Once known as the Paris of the Middle East for its fusion of modernity and tradition and sophisticated restaurant culture, it increasingly has been scarred by civil war, occupations, and tragedy, like the Beirut port explosion of 2018. Like some other countries, many more Lebanese live outside the country than inside it. They often bond around food and this book, by Salma Hage, is a classic. It contains 500 mouth-watering recipes and drips with nostalgia and the scents and flavours of home.

By Salma Hage,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lebanese Cookbook as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The definitive book on Lebanese home cooking, featuring 500 authentic and delicious easy-to-make recipes

On the shores of the eastern Mediterranean and a gateway to the Middle East, Lebanon has long been regarded as having one of the most refined cuisines in the region, blending textures, and ingredients from a myriad of sources. First published as The Lebanese Kitchen and now back in print under its new title, The Lebanese Cookbook, this is the definitive guide, bringing together hundreds of diverse dishes, from light, tempting mezzes and salads, to hearty main courses, grilled meats, sumptuous sweets, and refreshing drinks.


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The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

By Bill Hiatt,

Book cover of The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

Bill Hiatt Author Of Different Lee

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Insatiable reader English teacher Life-long learner Hiker Webmaster

Bill's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Guaritori awakens from a coma to find that he's lost twenty years--and his entire world.

Fiancée, family, and friends are all missing, perhaps dead. Technology has failed, and magic has risen, leaving society in ruins. Most survivors are at the mercy of anyone who has strong enough magic. Guaritori has none. He finds a protector, but his troubles are far from over.

The new society in which he finds himself is superficially friendly but surrounded by enemies and full of secrets. Guaritori doesn't know it yet, but the biggest secret is his. If his protector knew who he truly was, she would kill him.

The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

By Bill Hiatt,

What is this book about?

Coming out of a coma after twenty years, Guaritori--Garth to his friends--discovers that the world he knew no longer exists.

Advanced technology has failed. Magic, which he didn't know even existed, has become much more powerful. Supernatural groups battle for supremacy, forcing human beings to seek shelter wherever they can find it.
Garth's only hope for survival lies with a varied group including a shape-shifter, an alchemist, a tarot card reader, a blacksmith with a flaming sword, and others. But a prophecy foretells that he will bring about the downfall of their leader, the mysterious Ms. M.

Even worse, Garth…


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