The best migration fiction books which explore being a stranger in a strange land

The Books I Picked & Why

The Sun Is Also a Star

By Nicola Yoon

Book cover of The Sun Is Also a Star

Why this book?

This is a book I have been recommending to teenagers and adults alike.

This is no ordinary romantic tale of girl meets boy; it is a very much contemporary take on the notion. Two very different protagonists, from two very different backgrounds are brought together in the immigrant ‘melting pot’ of New York City. In what could be seen as a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, the characters are much more self-aware than in Shakespeare’s original and thankfully this leads to a more enlightened outcome, for them, and the people they meet on their journey.

Using deceptively simple short chapters which chart the course of one day, it cleverly deals with so many of life's big issues (including migration) primarily through the two teenage narrators.

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Exit West

By Mohsin Hamid

Book cover of Exit West

Why this book?

A moving love story set against a surreal landscape. The spare and inventive prose packs a powerful punch in this novella-length book. 

A subtle and moving examination of how relationships survive against a backdrop of forced migration. It cleverly explores who has the right to be where. The ending to this unconventional love story will stay with you long after reading. This book is perfect for book club discussion groups as it poses so many important questions of our time.

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The Arrival

By Shaun Tan

Book cover of The Arrival

Why this book?

I bought my signed copy of this book at an exhibition of artwork by author/illustrator Shaun Tan. All ages can respond to these moving stories of being a stranger in a strange place. The story is told in sepia-toned graphic novel form. The endpapers are captivating with around sixty ‘mug’ shot illustrations of faces from every corner of the globe. Told over chapters charting various families’ departures and arrivals, there is an intriguing backdrop of surreal landscapes which cleverly conveys the feelings of ‘otherness’ being a foreigner forced to leave. A book you can revisit again and again, particularly in these troubled times where so many displaced people are seeking sanctuary. Perfect for adults and children alike.

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The Cat's Table

By Michael Ondaatje

Book cover of The Cat's Table

Why this book?

This really is a gem of a book. The reader is left guessing whether it is a memoir, auto-fiction, or stand-alone fiction. From its deceptively simple beginning, it cleverly deals with so many of life's big issues with a thoughtful lightness of touch. The book is written from the perspective of grown-up Michael, but Ondaatje explores the confusion and frustration of the child who was made to sail halfway around the world to a new home and the subsequent impact the journey has on the adult Michael. 

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By W.G. Sebald

Book cover of Austerlitz

Why this book?

I picked up a paperback copy of this book at an airport store around twenty years ago. I was flying out to southern Germany and read the story of five-year-old Jacques Austerlitz who is sent to England on a Kindertransport and placed with foster parents in Wales. There, as was often the case in those days, the parents felt it best to erase his difficult past. But the past can’t be erased and later in life Austerlitz sets off on an odyssey across Europe and finds the past revisiting him. In many ways this book tells the story of twentieth-century Europe and is epic in its reach. Reading it during my stay in central Europe was an incredibly moving and haunting experience.

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