The best books about immigration, in the 1800s—why, when, and how to get away

Rose Osterman Kleidon Author Of 1836: Year of Escape
By Rose Osterman Kleidon

Who am I?

By chance, I was entrusted with rare historical documents about the immigrant generations in our family, which inspired this novel and grounded it in reality. Who wouldn’t wonder why they came? Besides, I have always been fascinated by pre-modern times and how steam power changed everything and dragged us along, kicking and screaming. And, even though they arrived in America in 1836, I grew up on the farm where they lived, so I heard tales of their amazing journey. It may be 186 years on, but it’s time to tell their story, which, it turns out, is a story for us all.  


I wrote...

1836: Year of Escape

By Rose Osterman Kleidon,

Book cover of 1836: Year of Escape

What is my book about?

In 1836, Europe is haunted by the Napoleonic Wars, and battle-weary veterans get the worst of it. Reactionary rulers everywhere try to snuff out the very idea of freedom...and those who treasure it. One man, Niklas Kästner, knows they must go. But he and his mercurial Katrina must somehow make the journey safe for the whole family, including children. To reach the sea, to find a ship, to survive the voyage.1836: Year of Escape is one story among many of the great European immigration, what drove those immigrants, the chances they took, and the lives at stake.

The books I picked & why

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The Emigrants: The Emigrant Novels: Book I

By Vilhelm Moberg,

Book cover of The Emigrants: The Emigrant Novels: Book I

Why this book?

The first of Moberg’s 4-volume saga of Swedish immigrants, this book is so thoroughly researched that he invented a term, calling them “documentary novels.” The family in the story are farmers from a poor, remote parish in Sweden whose lives are constricted by both the church and the state. This reflects the painful realities of Europe in 1850, where almost everyone was poor, rural, oppressed, and completely unprepared for the journey ahead of them. Whether you read Moberg’s Emigrant Novels for the intense personal drama or for more understanding of why people leave their homelands, you will find these stories deeply emotional and insightful.

The Emigrants: The Emigrant Novels: Book I

By Vilhelm Moberg,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Emigrants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Considered one of Sweden's greatest 20th-century writers, Vilhelm Moberg created the characters Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson to portray the joys and tragedies of daily life for early Swedish immigrants in America. His consistently faithful depiction of these humble people's lives is a major strength of the Emigrant Novels.

Moberg's extensive research in the papers of Swedish emigrants in archival collections enabled him to incorporate many details of pioneer life. First published between 1949 and 1959 in Swedish, these four books were considered a single work by Moberg, who intended that they be read as documentary novels. These reprint editions…


The Library of Legends

By Janie Chang,

Book cover of The Library of Legends

Why this book?

Janie Chang is a master writer who weaves the power of myth into her story of a 1937 escape of Chinese university students as Japanese bombs drop on their city. Charged with protecting an irreplaceable trove of ancient books, the students face air raids, a ragged life on the road, and a growing fear of traitors from within. The Library of Legends is an evocative tale of love, war, and survival, beautifully written.

The Library of Legends

By Janie Chang,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Library of Legends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The Library of Legends is a gorgeous, poetic journey threaded with mist and magic about a group from a Chinese university who take to the road to escape the Japanese invasion of 1937 - only to discover that danger stalks them from within. Janie Chang pens pure enchantment!" -Kate Quinn, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Alice Network and The Huntress

From the author of Three Souls and Dragon Springs Road comes a captivating historical novel-the third in a loosely-connected trilogy-in which a young woman travels across China with a convoy of student refugees, fleeing the…


My Name Is Resolute

By Nancy E. Turner,

Book cover of My Name Is Resolute

Why this book?

In My Name Is Resolute, the main character, Resolute Talbot, is not an immigrant, but she is on the move, captured in Jamaica as a child in 1729 and taken by ship to New England to be sold into slavery. Resolute’s story takes the reader to fascinating places, including the American colonies as they begin to boil with pre-Revolutionary fervor. The era and events are challenging enough and made even more interesting as the narrator’s voice changes to reflect the change from child to woman. Highly recommended. 

My Name Is Resolute

By Nancy E. Turner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Name Is Resolute as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nancy Turner burst onto the literary scene with her hugely popular novels These Is My Words, Sarah's Quilt, and The Star Garden. Now, Turner has written the novel she was born to write, this exciting and heartfelt story of a woman struggling to find herself during the tumultuous years preceding the American Revolution. The year is 1729, and Resolute Talbot and her siblings are captured by pirates, taken from their family in Jamaica, and brought to the New World. Resolute and her sister are sold into slavery in New England and taught the trade of spinning and weaving. When Resolute…


Shaman

By Noah Gordon,

Book cover of Shaman

Why this book?

Winner of the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for historical fiction, Shaman immerses readers in post-Revolution America of the 1830s, when Illinois was on a frontier defined by the Mississippi River. The characters include a doctor who fled from political turmoil in Scotland, members of the Sauk Indian tribe, runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad, and xenophobic Know-Nothings, a stew of intensifying forces that will lead to Civil War. The novel’s historical accuracy enhances it, and intertwined stories of two doctors, father and son, shine a light on a fascinating era.

Shaman

By Noah Gordon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Robert Jeremy Cole, the legendary doctor and hero of THE PHYSICIAN, left an enduring legacy. From the eleventh century on, the eldest son in each generation of the Cole family has borne the same first name and middle initial and many of these men have followed the medical profession. A few have been blessed with their ancestor's diagnostic skill and the 'sixth sense' they call The Gift, the ability to know instinctively when death is impending.
The tragedy of Rob J.'s life is the deafness of his son, Robert Jefferson Cole, who is called Shaman by everyone who knows him.…


Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828-1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in History

By Richard Campanella,

Book cover of Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828-1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in History

Why this book?

As a teenager, Abraham Lincoln built a flatboat and floated down the Mississippi to New Orleans to sell the produce his family and neighbors had grown. This and a similar trip three years later were his only exposure to the Deep South. They immersed him in a culture of riverboat men that was archetypical of the era and included events that became part of the mythology surrounding him, an attack by runaway slaves that could have killed him, and his rescue of fellow boatman from drowning. Campanella is a university professor, tireless researcher, and excellent writer.

Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828-1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in History

By Richard Campanella,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1828, a teenaged Abraham Lincoln guided a flatboat down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. The adventure marked his first visit to a major city and exposed him to the nation's largest slave marketplace. It also nearly cost him his life, in a nighttime attack in the Louisiana plantation country. That trip, and a second one in 1831, would form the two longest journeys of Lincoln's life, his only visits to the Deep South, and his foremost experience in a racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse urban environment.

Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828-1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in…


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