The best books about looking for and finding refuge

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the child of refugees from the Holocaust, so displacement and the effects of war and violence have been part of my personal experience. My book, Only the River, is loosely based on my mother’s story. She and her family escaped from Vienna in 1938 and spent the war years in Bolivia, the only country that would give them visas. I am also a high school teacher who works with immigrant students, who have fled violence and poverty. It is my vocation to offer them hospitality and help them find a sense of home here, in an environment that is often hostile. These books bring the stories of the displaced and dispossessed alive. 


I wrote...

Only the River

By Anne Raeff,

Book cover of Only the River

What is my book about?

 Fleeing the ravages of wartime Vienna, Pepa and her family find safe harbor in the small town of El Castillo, on the banks of the San Juan River in Nicaragua. There her parents seek to eradicate yellow fever while Pepa falls under the spell of the jungle and the town’s eccentric inhabitants. But Pepa’s life—including her relationship with local boy Guillermo—comes to a halt when her family abruptly moves to New York.

As the years pass, Pepa’s and Guillermo’s lives diverge, and Guillermo’s homeland slips into chaos. Guillermo’s daughter transforms into an accidental revolutionary. Pepa’s son defies his parents’ wishes and joins the revolution in Nicaragua, only to disappear into the jungle. It will take decades before the fates of these two families converge again.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Go, Went, Gone

Anne Raeff Why did I love this book?

This is a beautiful book about a retired academic and widower who finds himself embroiled in the lives of young African refugees trying to seek asylum in Berlin. What I love about this book, besides the beautiful writing, is that neither the widower nor the refugees are portrayed as saints and neither really finds redemption. It is, rather, a very real story of fragile yet real connections between people who, for entirely different reasons, are very much alone. I love this book because it holds us all accountable as human beings and asks us how we can retain our humanity, our moral center when power is so unequally distributed.

By Jenny Erpenbeck, Susan Bernofsky (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Go, Went, Gone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Go, Went, Gone is the masterful new novel by the acclaimed German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, "one of the most significant German-language novelists of her generation" (The Millions). The novel tells the tale of Richard, a retired classics professor who lives in Berlin. His wife has died, and he lives a routine existence until one day he spies some African refugees staging a hunger strike in Alexanderplatz. Curiosity turns to compassion and an inner transformation, as he visits their shelter, interviews them, and becomes embroiled in their harrowing fates. Go, Went, Gone is a scathing indictment of Western policy toward the…


Book cover of After the Parade

Anne Raeff Why did I love this book?

This book is for all of us who escaped the small-mindedness of the world in which we were raised and about the places that took us in. The book’s hero is Aaron Englund, a gay, bookish, and much-misunderstood boy who grows up in a small town in rural Minnesota. It is about his struggles in that hostile world and the other outsiders he encounters as he tries to figure out who he is. It is about saving oneself and finding one’s place, and it is in some ways a homage to my adopted home, San Francisco. It is also a book about love, about falling in love and falling out of love, and is full of humor and compassion. 

By Lori Ostlund,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The debut novel from award-winning author Lori Ostlund—“smart, resonant, and imbued with beauty” (Publishers Weekly) that “provides considerable pleasure and emotional power” (The New York Times Book Review)—about a man who leaves his longtime partner in New Mexico for a tragicomic road trip deep into the mysteries of his own Midwestern childhood.

Sensitive, bighearted, and achingly self-conscious, forty-year-old Aaron Englund long ago escaped the confinements of his Midwestern hometown, but he still feels like an outcast. After twenty years under the Pygmalion-like care of his older partner, Walter, Aaron at last decides it is time to take control of his…


Book cover of Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945-1955

Anne Raeff Why did I love this book?

This is my non-fiction choice. Aftermath is a brilliant book that describes the destruction and displacement in Germany caused by World War II. Although I have studied this topic my whole life and written about it in my fiction, there is always more to learn, and this book taught me so much. It is full of rich details and top-notch scholarship. Despite the terrible destruction and misery that the author describes, the book provides us with some hope in the ability of human beings to survive the unimaginable and even to create new meaning out of the rubble.

By Harald Jähner, Shaun Whiteside (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How does a nation recover from fascism and turn toward a free society once more?This internationally acclaimed revelatory history—"filled with first-person accounts from articles and diaries" (The New York Times)—of the transformational decade that followed World War II illustrates how Germany raised itself out of the ashes of defeat and reckoned with the corruption of its soul and the horrors of the Holocaust.

Featuring over 40 eye-opening black-and-white photographs and posters from the period.
 
The years 1945 to 1955 were a raw, wild decade that found many Germans politically, economically, and morally bankrupt. Victorious Allied forces occupied the four zones…


Book cover of Further News of Defeat: Stories

Anne Raeff Why did I love this book?

Further News of Defeat is a collection of loosely connected short stories about the realities of life in China, especially for people from the countryside who find themselves in the alien world of China’s cold and materialistic cities. The stories are heart-wrenching and the images in them will seep into your dreams, stay with you forever. What I love about this book is that, though all great books are fundamentally political, it is not politically motivated, not a diatribe against communism or even totalitarianism. The characters are not romanticized victims but real people with flaws and passions. This book will make you cry and think and laugh.

By Michael X. Wang,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Further News of Defeat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Steeped in a long history of violence and suffering, Michael X. Wang's debut collection of short stories interrogates personal and political events set against the backdrop of China that are both real and perceived, imagined and speculative. Wang plunges us into the fictional Chinese village of Xinchun and beyond to explore themes of tradition, family, modernity, and immigration in a country grappling with its modern identity. Violence enters the pastoral when Chinese villagers are flung down a well by Japanese soldiers and forced to abandon their crops and families to work in the coal mines, a tugboat driver dredges up…


Book cover of Good to a Fault

Anne Raeff Why did I love this book?

This book by Canadian writer Marina Endicott is quirky in all the best ways—smart, tender, heart-wrenching, and quietly hopeful. It is about a lonely, divorced accountant who takes in a homeless family after crashing into their car. The book is gorgeous on the sentence level and the way Endicott writes about the connections and lack of connections between the characters in the book is full of wisdom and pathos. Though the premise is quite simple, the book is full of surprises. 

By Marina Endicott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Good to a Fault as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Absorbed in her own failings, 43-year-old Clara Purdy crashes her life into a sharp left turn, taking the young family in the other car along with her. When bruises on the mother, Lorraine, prove to be late-stage cancer, Clara moves the three children and their terrible grandmother into her own house while Lorraine undergoes treatment at the local hospital.

We know what is good, but we don't do it. In Good to a Fault, Clara decides to give it a try, and then has to cope with the consequences : exhaustion, fury, hilarity, and unexpected love. But she questions her…


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Alpha Max

By Mark A. Rayner,

Book cover of Alpha Max

Mark A. Rayner Author Of Alpha Max

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Human shaped Pirate hearted Storytelling addict Creatively inclined

Mark's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Maximilian Tundra is about to have an existential crisis of cosmic proportions.

When a physical duplicate of him appears in his living room, wearing a tight-fitting silver lamé unitard and speaking with an English accent, Max knows something bad is about to happen. Bad doesn’t cover it. Max discovers he’s the only human being who can prevent the end of the world, and not just on his planet! In the multiverse, infinite Earths will be destroyed.

Alpha Max

By Mark A. Rayner,

What is this book about?

★★★★★ "Funny, yet deep, this is definitely worth venturing into the multiverse for."

Amazing Stories says: "Snarky as Pratchet, insightful as Stephenson, as full of scathing social commentary as Swift or Voltaire, and weirdly reminiscent of LeGuin, Alpha Max is the only multiverse novel you need this month, or maybe ever."

Maximilian Tundra is about to have an existential crisis of cosmic proportions.

When a physical duplicate of him appears in his living room, wearing a tight-fitting silver lamé unitard and speaking with an English accent, Max knows something bad is about to happen. Bad doesn’t cover it. Max discovers…


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