The best books that are not your grandfather’s immigration story

Who am I?

Like many of you, my ancestors were immigrants. Mine were Eastern European, some from villages now in Ukraine. Growing up, I heard stories of relatives fleeing the Cossacks, the pogroms, and basically getting out while the getting was good, all for the promise of a better life. Some didn’t make it—they died in gas chambers and work camps. Some didn’t survive the hardships of their new worlds. The ones who thrived were tough, worked hard…yes, some were bitter, but they all had hope. This hope, despite everything, is universal, yet very personal, which is why I’m so drawn to these refugee and immigrant stories from all over the world.


I wrote...

Boychik

By Laurie Boris,

Book cover of Boychik

What is my book about?

It’s 1932. Eli, the son in Abramowitz & Son Kosher Delicatessen in Brooklyn, dreams of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter. Evelyn, the daughter of a mobster and his Polish mail-order bride, carries the weight of family traditions but longs for escape and a life where she can do some good in the world. But a chance meeting could make trouble for everyone, and could put both their lives in danger. Boychik is a story about hope, love, and finding the courage to chase your dreams even when they run counter to family obligations.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Laurie Boris Why did I love this book?

My favorite stories crook a finger and draw me deep into the characters and their worlds. The world of refugees from the Syrian civil war is filled with horror, grief, and pain, as you might expect, but this book…this book is beautiful, and it’s among the best novels I’ve read. A beekeeper and his wife – a blind artist flee Aleppo for a chance of survival and the ever-dwindling hope of a new life in the UK. Threads from past and present weave seamlessly around each other like a bee from flower to hive to flower. I ached for these characters, but I also felt so present it was like walking through the fields of lavender and tasting the honey. My stepfather kept bees, so I also enjoyed that connection.

By Christy Lefteri,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for Audiobook of the Year - The British Book Awards 2020

A BBC RADIO 2 BOOK CLUB CHOICE 2019

Narrated by Art Malik, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a moving, powerful, compassionate and beautifully written testament to the triumph of the human spirit. Told with deceptive simplicity, it is the kind of book that reminds us of the power of storytelling.

In the midst of war, he found love
In the midst of darkness, he found courage
In the midst of tragedy, he found hope

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life,…


Book cover of What Is the What

Laurie Boris Why did I love this book?

An American author wrote an autobiographical novel about the journey of a refugee from the Sudanese civil war? Skeptical red flags going up all over the place. But the story is based on actual refugee Valentino Achak Deng (he and Dave Eggers are friends), and the proceeds go to a foundation birthed in Deng’s name. Which Deng now uses to fund schools in his native South Sudan. But then I read it. And it’s good. Like, really, really good. Heartbreaking yet hopeful, and if I forgot about Eggers, I would completely believe that Deng is sitting right in front of me telling his story over coffee.

By Dave Eggers,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked What Is the What as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The epic novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children —the so-called Lost Boys—was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom.

When he finally is resettled in the United States, he finds a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges. Moving, suspenseful, and unexpectedly funny, What Is the What is an astonishing novel that…


Book cover of Middlesex

Laurie Boris Why did I love this book?

Yes, it won a Pulitzer. Yes, it’s been around a while (published in 2002). The world is (finally, hopefully) catching up to the fact that non-binary people are part of it. But in its time, Middlesex was considered astonishing—for its main character (identified as intersex) and the family secrets he reveals. This was and still is one of my favorite stories. The writing is flat-out stellar, for one. I ached with empathy and love for Calliope, later known as Cal, but the harrowing immigration tale of his grandparents, Lefty and Desdemona, seeking escape to America from their tiny village in Greece while the country is being besieged by the Turkish army, pulled me in hard. So, technically it is somebody’s grandparents’ immigration story, but it’s really, really good.

By Jeffrey Eugenides,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974.'

So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and her truly unique family secret, born on the slopes of Mount Olympus and passed on through three generations.

Growing up in 70s Michigan, Calliope's special inheritance will turn her into Cal, the narrator of this intersex, inter-generational epic of immigrant life in 20th century America.

Middlesex won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.


Book cover of Little Bee

Laurie Boris Why did I love this book?

I knew nothing about this book’s author but was immediately hooked by the engaging voice of the young protagonist. I would have followed her anywhere. She led me out of Nigeria, on the run from warlords who burned her village, to a refugee detention center in the UK. Then on the loose, an undocumented young Nigerian woman searching for the one man in London who could vouch for her. What she does find is the man’s widow. And I found a story I couldn’t stop reading. Only later did I learn that the author is a man. And that he’d written the book to shine a light on the cruelty done to Nigerians in the name of oil rights, and the mistreatment of refugees in UK detention centers. Well done, Chris.

By Chris Cleave,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Millions of people have read, discussed, debated, cried, and cheered with Little Bee, a Nigerian refugee girl whose violent and courageous journey​ puts a stunning face on the worldwide refugee crisis​.

“Little Bee will blow you away.” —The Washington Post

The lives of a sixteen-year-old Nigerian orphan and a well-off British woman collide in this page-turning #1 New York Times bestseller, book club favorite, and “affecting story of human triumph” (The New York Times Book Review) from Chris Cleave, author of Gold and Everyone Brave Is Forgiven.

We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is…


Book cover of The Revised Kama Sutra: A Novel of Colonialism and Desire

Laurie Boris Why did I love this book?

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Richard Crasta when he lived in New York, and his novel was a welcome surprise at a time when I needed it. Not all fictional immigrant journeys about hope are harrowing life-and-death tales. Some are funny, like Crasta’s coming-of-age American-dream novel. It’s been called the Indian Portnoy’s Complaint. I get that some might have a problem with that. But I felt for Vijay Prabhu, our young protagonist. He yearns to be a writer and sleep with American women—a dream that American TV and movies have promised him, a dream that’s taboo in his native Mangalore and in his Catholic family, where writing is not an acceptable profession for a man and sex is definitely not discussed. Witty and honest and devastatingly human.

By Richard Crasta,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A comic coming-of-age novel, of an Indian boy with an American Dream, "The Revised Kama Sutra" is also an honest and uninhibited account of how difficult it was for many an Indian male, in the Seventies (and to a smaller extent, even today), to lose his virginity. Inflamed by Western movies and erotic novels and how-to books on seducing women, the protagonist, Vijay Prabhu, dreams of going to America to become a writer and fulfill his sexual fantiasies. Described as an insight into the Indian male mind, this novel has been published in multiple editions and was praised by Kurt…


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Too Good

By Carol Moreira,

Book cover of Too Good

Carol Moreira Author Of Riptides

New book alert!

Who am I?

I’m fascinated by the relationship of humanity to nature. When I was young, we moved all the time – my dad was in the military and we moved to a new base every 18 months. All those military bases were located in the British countryside and, in the absence of other forms of continuity, nature became like a best friend. I still walk every day. Reconnecting with trees, grass, the sounds of birds, centres and energizes me. I get my best ideas when walking. But, of course, nature is also threatening – Covid and cancer are natural. I’m fascinated by that juxtaposition and always trying to reflect it in my work.  

Carol's book list on the beauty and threat of the natural world

What is my book about?

This is a steamy tale of vulnerability and betrayal. Struggling in her marriage, her new life in England, and her work in a hospice, Canadian-born Lindsey is drawn to her best friend's attractive husband, David.

Guilt about her fascination with David is complicated by her admiration for his wife, Grace, a cancer doctor at the hospice. But when Grace is killed in a terrorist attack, Lindsey is drawn to Grace's man, unheeding of the dangers.

Too Good

By Carol Moreira,

What is this book about?

Struggling in her marriage, her new life in England, and her work in a hospice, Canadian-born Lindsey is drawn to her best friend’s attractive husband David. The sight of his lean gardener’s body working in the hospice grounds fills her with longing and makes her forget the sadness in both the hospice and her marriage.
Guilt about her fascination with David is complicated by her friendship and admiration for his wife Grace, a cancer doctor at the hospice. But when Grace is killed in a terrorist attack, Lindsey is drawn into a passionate romance with Grace’s man unheeding of the…


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Interested in refugees, Sudan, and immigrants?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about refugees, Sudan, and immigrants.

Refugees Explore 125 books about refugees
Sudan Explore 22 books about Sudan
Immigrants Explore 158 books about immigrants